Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior by one person to another in order to gain or maintain control over the victim. The following are forms of abuses that can be considered domestic violence.

  • Physical abuse, including hitting, biting, slapping, hair pulling, etc. It can also include denying someone medical attention who needs it, or forcing someone to do drugs or drink alcohol;
  • Sexual abuse, or forcing the victim into sexual contact;
  • Emotional and psychological abuse;
  • Economic abuse, when an abuser makes the victim rely on the abuser financially; and
  • Stalking and cyberstalking.

What is Domestic Violence Leave?

Domestic leave is permitted leave from work for those who are victims of domestic violence. Whether the domestic violence leave is granted to a victim depends on the state where you reside.

A total of fifteen states – including California, Hawaii, New York, Washington, as well as the District of Columbia – have passed laws which allow victims of domestic violence to take some time off work.

What are the Requirements for Obtaining Domestic Violence Leave?

The requirements for obtaining domestic violence leave vary by state. Generally, employees must give “reasonable advance notice” that they will need to take leave, unless such notice is not feasible given the circumstances. Some states further require employees to provide written proof that your leave is related to domestic violence.

What are Valid Reasons for Taking Leave?

What is considered a permissible reason for taking domestic leave depends on the individual state laws. Some states allow victims to take time off for very specific types of medical care or psychological planning, whereas others allow leave for relocation or if you are seeking a restraining order against your abuser.

Further, how much time you can take may be a set period of time (days or weeks) or a “reasonable” amount of leave. In some states, such as Florida, you must first exhaust all paid vacation and personal leave prior to taking domestic violence leave.

Must Domestic Violence Leave be Paid?

Currently, no state requires that the leave be paid. Nevertheless, the District of Columbia has been paying its employees who take domestic leave. Some states allow employees to use their paid leave if they take domestic leave. Others, such as Florida, require that the employee first exhaust all paid leave and personal leave before taking domestic violence leave.

Can a Domestic Violence Victims take Family and Medical Leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) allows certain employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave every 12 months for serious health conditions, to care for a seriously ill family member, or to take care of a new child.

If you experience psychological trauma as a result of domestic violence requiring you to take leave, you may be entitled to FMLA leave. Note that this leave is unpaid, although employees are permitted to use their accrued paid sick or vacation leave while on FMLA leave.

Should I Speak with a Lawyer?

Any type of leave that is protected by law must be given by an employer to an employee that qualifies for that leave, but some employers may not be aware of your right to have domestic violence leave and may deny your request for such leave. An employment lawyer will be able to help you assert your rights in relation to domestic violence leave if a request for domestic violence leave is wrongfully denied. 

Also, if your employer sues you for breaching your employment contract by taking the leave that you are entitled to, a lawyer will be able to defend you against that claim in court.