33. Did the Claimant Need to Leave Work or Was the Claimant Fired Due to Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence frequently spills into the workplace; 96% of employed victims of domestic violence experience some kind of work-related problem due to violence. Victims may need to take time off from work to participate in criminal and civil legal proceedings and to address such effects of domestic violence as relocating their family or obtaining medical care. Victims may also need to leave their jobs for safety reasons where their abusers know where they work or know their commuting patterns to and from work.

Chapter 69 of the Acts of 2001, An Act Relative to the Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits for Victims of Domestic Violence, made numerous important changes to G.L. c. 151A, resulting in the payment of benefits to individuals whose separation from work is attributable to domestic violence or to the need to deal with the physical, psychological, or legal effects of domestic violence on the worker and her family. It is not necessary to prove that employees divulged the domestic violence to their employer prior to leaving their job. See BR-117242 (10/28/11).

The statute extends special considerations and eligibility for victims of domestic violence, which are found in provisions relating to: voluntary quit; leaving work for “urgent and compelling” personal reasons; discharge analysis; able-and-available and suitability requirements; and access to training. For example, voluntary quit provisions clearly provide for eligibility if an individual leaves a job because: (1) the individual fears future domestic violence at, or on route to and from, the individual’s place of employment; (2) the individual needs to relocate to another geographical area in order to avoid domestic violence; (3) the individual needs to address the physical, psychological, and legal effects of domestic violence; (4) the individual needs to leave employment as a condition of receiving services or shelter from an agency that provides support or shelter to victims of domestic violence; or (5) the individual’s leaving is due in any other respect to a reasonable belief that terminating employment is necessary to ensure their safety or the safety of their family. G.L. c. 151A, § 25(e), ¶ 7.

Individuals who are fired are also eligible for benefits if they can show that the firing was due to circumstances resulting from domestic violence, including the individual’s need to address the physical, psychological, or legal effects of domestic violence. G.L. c. 151A, § 25(e), ¶ 2.

The Board has held that because a claimant’s unreported absences were due to domestic violence, she was eligible for UI benefits.  BR-0022 2055 38 (8/31/18) (Key).  The Board noted that even though the claimant did not present hospital records of treatment for injuries inflicted by her abusive boyfriend, that the combination of police reports, restraining orders and the claimant’s undisputed testimony were sufficient.  Id.  Advocates should note, too, that under the statute, although police reports and restraining orders constitute alternate sources of proof of domestic violence, “a sworn statement from the individual attesting to the abuse” is sufficient proof.  G.L. c. 151A, § 1 (g.5).

Additionally, the law addresses an individuals' need to show they are “able and available” for suitable work. The law modifies the requirement by limiting “suitability” requirements for domestic violence survivors to work that is determined suitable only if the employer reasonably accommodates the individual’s need to address the physical, psychological, and legal effects of domestic violence. G.L. c. 151A, § 25(c), ¶ 2. The AH also provides that a claimant who is restricting availability to comply with the requirements of a shelter provider in order to receive or continue to receive shelter is still considered to be available for work. AH c. 4, § 3B.4; BR-111513 (9/17/10) (upholding DUA's policy analysis that a claimant does not need to make oneself available where the claimant is complying with the requirements of a shelter for those escaping domestic violence.)

DUA has expanded access to training opportunities for domestic violence survivors by tolling the requirement that an individual must apply for approved training within the first 20 weeks of the UI claim if the delay is related to addressing the effects of domestic violence. G.L. c. 151A, § 30(c).

Note: The AH includes important sections on how domestic violence issues should be handled, emphasizing the need for sensitivity and ensuring a claimant’s privacy. AH c 6, § 3D and c. 7, § 6. If a client reveals domestic violence, and this issue has not previously come to the attention of DUA, contact the Constituent Services at 1-877-626-6800 (toll free for area codes 351, 413, 508, 774, 908) or 617-626-6800 or email at constituent.services2@state.ma.us. Cases identified as involving domestic violence are sent to a "confidential queue" on UI Online and handled by DUA's UI Policy and Performance Department. AH, c. 6, § 3.