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Domestic, sexual violence victims in Missouri will be able to seek unpaid leave

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Under a new law signed earlier this month, victims of domestic or sexual violence in Missouri will be able to receive unpaid time off to seek medical or mental health treatment, legal assistance, and more. 

Employers with at least 50 employees must grant two workweeks of unpaid leave while those with between 20-49 employees can grant at least one workweek per year. Individuals should give at least 48 hours’ notice to take the time off (unless that is not possible) and could be asked to provide documentation such as a police report or records from an attorney or medical professional. 

Employees with family members who are victims of sexual or domestic violence are also included under this law. 

Leave can be taken to seek medical or mental health care, relocate temporarily or permanently, or obtain legal services, including preparing for or participating in court proceedings. 

Individuals who take leave must be reinstated to their position upon returning and should not lose any benefits. 

The provision was included in a sweeping package pertaining to vulnerable people from GOP Rep. Hannah Kelly. Gov. Mike Parson signed it into law last week with an effective date of Aug. 28. 

“Missouri values every life, and I’m grateful that this bipartisan effort succeeded so well through the vehicle of HB 432. Standing up for these victims and helping them chart a path forward is never a waste of time,” Kelly told The Missouri Times. 

The specific provision, called the Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (VESSA), was championed by Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat. She said it “provides that short amount of time needed for a survivor to get herself and her family out of an abusive relationship while maintaining her essential job security that is critical to successfully moving forward.” 

A National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (part of the CDC) study showed the value of lost productivity from employment for victims of intimate partner violence was nearly $728 million — when the study was published in 2003. 

These protections have been a long time in the making for the Missouri Legislature with former Sen. Gina Walsh advocating for them in the past. A host of bipartisan lawmakers and advocacy groups came together this year — as the COVID pandemic resulted in an increase in reports of domestic and sexual violence — to push the legislation across the finish line. 

“Missouri joins 34 other states that have passed legislation providing legal protection to victims from employment repercussions. Although Missouri has a law requiring time off from work for a victim to attend criminal justice proceedings, there are other reasons victims need to have time off from work — seeking medical treatment, attending a full order of protection hearing, safety planning with a victim advocate, and/or obtaining counseling and related advocacy support,” Jennifer Carter Dochler, public policy director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV), said. “No one should have to choose between their job and safety.” 

“No woman should ever have to choose between her job or safety, and no woman should have to risk losing her job to take care of her safety,” Ellen Alper, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis, said. “We need to know that women can take off work to get orders of protection, get legal services, medical care, social services, all as part of their safety plan to move on with their lives.” 

The Missouri Legislature also expanded orders of protection to include pets and extending them for life this year.