Maine State Capitol in the fall, photo by Ramona du Houx
A law strengthening workplace protections for victims of sexual assault and other violence by expanding their rights to take a leave of absence from their jobs is now in effect.
The law, PL 343, builds upon protections first adopted in 1999. It requires employers to restore employees who are victims of violence to the position they had before taking a leave or to an equivalent position with similar wages and benefits. It also increases fines for employers who violate any of the protections.
The measure applies to both employees and immediate family members who are victims of violence.
“Last year, I became aware of situations where employers did not follow the law and fired employees who requested leave after a violent incident,” said Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, sponsor of the original legislation. “Before this law passed, the victim had no legal recourse. There is still a ways to go, but this is a good step forward.”
Under previous law, when employers illegally fired victims of violence or sexual assault, their only punishment was a $200 fine from the Maine Department of Labor that did not go to the victim. Now the fine is $1000 to the Department, and employees can choose to either receive either $3,000 or be rehired with back pay.
“After going through such a traumatic experience, a person’s first thought shouldn’t be ‘Am I going to lose my job?’” said Daughtry. “I’m glad the tide is beginning to turn on this issue.”
Daughtry’s legislation was confirmed as law after the Maine Supreme Court ruled that the governor failed to issue a veto within the 10-day window allotted him by the Maine Constitution. The measure became law without the signature of the governor.
“The original law protecting victims of violence was intended to give them time to recover and seek treatment, prepare for and attend court proceedings or develop a plan for their continued safety,” said Daughtry. “This new law begins to back up those intentions with real consequences for employers who violate the law. Too many victims, especially women, are not taking all the time they need to heal because they fear losing ground at work.”