VESSA Act Helps Victims of Domestic, Sexual Violence

To help assist people experiencing intimate violence, in 2003 the Illinois legislature passed a law called the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA). The law allows for people to take four to 12 weeks of unpaid time off work per year to seek help for life issues related to domestic or sexual violence they have experienced, without having to worry about losing their job.

The VESSA Act allows victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, or gender violence to inform their employer that they need time off to ensure their safety and address mental and physical health issues. Employers must allow them to take this time, and cannot terminate the employee due to the absence, nor use the threat of termination to persuade employees not to take time off.

According to a report from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one study showed 50% of rape victims lost or were forced to quit their jobs in the year following their rapes because of the severity of their reactions. 

Whom does the VESSA law help?

In the text of the VESSA Act, the Illinois legislature provides a long list of findings to justify the law’s creation. Among them it says, “Violence against women has been reported to be the leading cause of physical injury to women. Such violence has a devastating impact on women’s physical and emotional health and financial security.”

While much of the language in the original legislation focuses on female victims of domestic violence, the law protects any person affected by acts of domestic violence, sexual violence or gender violence. This includes people who identify as male, female or non-gendered, who have experienced behaviors including:

  • Physical violence
  • Intimidation and threats
  • Psychological abuse 
  • Controlling behaviors
  • Sexual abuse
  • Stalking

VESSA protects people of every age in all types of domestic violence relationships, such as those involving parents and adult children, family members, roommates, and any others who are cohabitating.

A person doesn’t need to be the direct target of abuse to qualify for VESSA leave protection. Anyone living in the household who witnessed or was adjacent to abuse can request time off to address resulting issues.

How does the VESSA law help?

For someone seeking to recover from a violent living situation, the added stress of work responsibilities can slow down their progress or prevent it altogether. 

In the National Violence Against Women Survey, 19% of adult female rape survivors and 9% of adult male rape survivors said their victimizations caused them to lose time from work. 

These survivors may need time off for a number of reasons:

  • Arranging for their immediate safety, and the safety of children or other loved ones.
  • Obtaining medical care for immediate injuries and chronic physical issues caused by repeated abuse.
  • Obtaining counseling for psychological and emotional issues caused by mental and physical abuse, which may be ongoing.
  • Obtaining medical and psychological care for child victims of abuse and those who witnessed abuse.
  • Attending to legal actions such as criminal charges, civic charges or orders of protection.
  • Moving out of their current residence, which may require last-minute scheduling or law enforcement intervention to avoid or control the abuser.
  • Organizing or becoming familiar with their finances, which may include opening a bank account, getting a debit card and learning how to pay bills. Many perpetrators of domestic violence keep their victims ignorant of household finances as a method of control — even if the victim works and earns their own salary.
  • Finding and setting up a new residence, sometimes with little knowledge or credit history.
  • Coordinating a means of transportation. The abuser may not have allowed them to drive or use public transportation.
  • Arranging for new school enrollment and additional care for children.

How do I use VESSA?

According to the VESSA law, victims of domestic, sexual or gender violence can take up to a certain number of weeks of unpaid leave from work in any 12-month period. The amount of time required for employers to allow varies depending on the size of the company:

  • 1 to 14 employees: 4 workweeks of leave
  • 15 to 49 employees: 8 workweeks of leave
  • 50+ employees: 12 workweeks of leave

The time off does not have to be contiguous, meaning employees can take the leave intermittently or on a reduced work schedule they coordinate with their employer. 

The CDC reported in 2003 that more than 21% of women who were raped by an intimate partner lost time from paid work, with eight days as the average number of days lost.

If an employee takes VESSA leave, their employer may require a type of certification that their absence qualifies for one of the causes under the law. 

An employee could be asked to provide a sworn statement, or provide proof such as police or court records, or documentation from a victim services organization, an attorney, clergy member, or medical or other professional.

Workers who want to use VESSA leave to take time off should provide at least 48 hours of notice to their employer. However, the law offers an exception for instances where such notice isn’t “practicable.” If the person is involved in an emergency situation, he or she may not have the time or ability to provide advance notice.

In this case, the employer cannot take disciplinary action or fire the employee, if the worker provides the type of certification mentioned above within a reasonable period of time.

What are my employer’s responsibilities?

Taking leave under the VESSA law requires communication between employers and their employees, beginning with informational notices posted in the workplace. Employers must display a poster summarizing the requirements under the VESSA Act in clear view of employees in the workplace. 

Workers also place a great deal of trust in their employers when communicating their need for VESSA leave. Employers have a legal responsibility to maintain complete confidentiality related to the employee’s situation, including their request for VESSA leave and all documentation provided for certification.

Finally, the VESSA Act says employers cannot discriminate against employees who request leave under the law. It’s illegal for employers to interfere with employees’ attempts to take VESSA to leave via harassment or improper denial of their request. 

Employers aren’t allowed to discriminate against these employees by changing their schedules, lowering their pay, taking away earned time off, or changing the terms of their employment in any other way. If it is found that an employer was guilty of this type of restraint or harassment, the company would face fines and other legal consequences.

We’re here to help

If you are a victim of violence, we can help. Call us to discuss your rights and options moving forward.

Whether you are a current client or if you are looking for family law or estate planning assistance, our team is here for you to  address your concerns. To the extent possible, we will offer remote consultations and provide services from a distance.

You may complete the form below,  message us here, email our office at info@sterkfamilylaw.com, or call 815-600-8950 and one of our team members will be able to assist you.

This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.

 

This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.

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