The state of Vermont has enacted a change pertaining to its Fair Employment Practices Act (“the Act”). H.B. 711, was signed into law in late May by the Governor, Phil Scott. It amends the Act by adding crime victims to the law’s list of protected classes, as an employment lawyer trusts can explain.
Who is a “crime victim”?
The law defines a crime victim as someone who has received relief under the state domestic relations abuse prevention law; someone who has received an order against stalking or sexual assault; someone who has received an order against abuse of a vulnerable adult; or someone who falls under the definition of “victim” from 13 V.S.A. § 5301 (a Vermont statute) stating that a victim is someone who “sustains physical, emotional or financial injury or death as a direct result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime.” The law makes it so that retaliating or discriminating against victims of crime is illegal.
H.B. 711 also mandates that employers give crime victim employees unpaid leave to go to legal proceedings related to the crime. Unpaid leave has to be provided, under 21 V.S.A. §472c, to employee crime victims who need to attend: a deposition, a relief hearing, a hearing concerning an order against stalking or sexual assault, or a hearing seeking relief from abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Moreover, the law further allows the employee to elect to use sick, vacation, or other paid leave instead of taking unpaid leave. The employee is also entitled to receive the same level of employment benefits that they are due in the normal course of work.
When the person returns to work, they are now legally required to receive the same benefits, compensation, and other terms of employment they enjoyed prior to needing leave. If the employee was already going to be relieved of their position before taking leave, then the employee will not be entitled to protection under this law. Similarly, if the employer can show (with clear and convincing evidence) that the employee would have been fired during the same time period as taking leave, then this is another permissible reason for terminating the employee.
Altogether, the law appears to be particularly attentive to the needs of domestic violence survivors and the legal proceedings involved in addressing those kinds of situations. The law goes into effect on July 1, 2018, which means employers and employees have a short window to note the law and adopt practices in relation to it.