Philadelphia Employment Law Amended to Protect Domestic or Sexual Violence

On November 5, 2008, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed into law a new ordinance amending the Philadelphia Code, entitled “Unlawful Employment Practices,” now adding a new chapter titled, “Entitlement to Leave Due To Domestic or Sexual Violence.” As a Philadelphia Employment Lawyer for many years, I often receive questions on when someone may take off of work for a period of time and still have their job protected. Most people are familiar with The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law that allows employees to take a leave of absence — without losing their job — because of their own or an immediate family member’s medical condition or other family responsibility such as the birth of a baby or an adoption. However, the FMLA does not specifically cover leave due to domestic or sexual violence.

The new Philadelphia law takes effect on January 5, 2009 and requires employers with 50 employees or more to provide up to eight weeks of unpaid leave annually to victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, or their qualifying family or household members. The law provides up to four weeks of leave if the employer has less than 50 employees. Employees may take this leave for the following reasons: to seek medical attention for physical or psychological injuries; obtain help from an organization that provides services to domestic or sexual violence victims; obtain counseling or therapy; make safety plans, including possibly relocating to increase safety; or to seek legal assistance. The Ordinance protects an employee’s job and benefits during the leave and prohibits retaliation against employees or interference with leave rights. Like the FMLA, an employer can require an employee to provide documentation of the domestic or sexual violence and the reason that why the employee must take the leave. However, all information provided to the employer must be kept confidential.

Although this Philadelphia ordinance only provides up to eight weeks of unpaid leave as opposed to the FMLA which provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the new ordinance is similar in requiring employers to restore the employee to his or her original position or an equivalent position with equivalent benefits once returning from leave. The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations has helpful information about this new ordinance on its website.

If you are the victim of unlawful employment practices such as sexual harassment, discrimination, or violation of your FMLA or other rights, you should contact Edith Pearce, an experienced Philadelphia Employment Lawyer.