Category Archives: Employee Assistance Programs

Missouri Employers Now Required To Provide Unpaid Leave To Victims Of Domestic Or Sexual Violence

Contributed by Brian Wacker, September 24, 2021

Words ‘Leave of Absence’ on white paper

As a part of Missouri’s new Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (VESSA), employers in the state with at least 20 employees must now provide unpaid leave to employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, or who have family or household members who are victims of the same.  Effective August 28, 2021, all covered employers are required to notify employees of their right to unpaid leave under the law by or before October 27, 2021.  The Missouri Department of Labor has published a poster which, if prominently posted, will meet this requirement. 

The new mandate is designed to provide domestic and sexual abuse victims, and their families, the opportunity to:

  • Seek medical attention for, or recover from, physical, or psychological injuries;
  • Obtain victim services;
  • Obtain counseling;
  • Participate in safety planning;
  • Relocate, temporarily, or permanently;
  • Take actions to increase safety for themselves or family members; and/or
  • Seek legal assistance.

Employees seeking such leave must provide their employer at least 48 hours’ advance written notice, unless doing so is not practicable under the circumstances.  To determine if a requesting employee is eligible for VESSA leave, an employer may require the employee to provide certification that either the employee or his/her family or household member is the domestic or sexual violence victim seeking the type of assistance described above.  This certification can come by way of:

  • Written documentation from a victims services organization, attorney, clergy member, or medical professional;
  • Police or court records; or
  • Other corroborating evidence.

Employees are required to provide such certification within a reasonable period of making the request for leave.  However, when an unscheduled absence occurs, an employer cannot take adverse action against an employee when, upon the employer’s request , the employee does provide this information within a reasonable time.

Again, VESSA only applies to employers with 20 or more employees and then dictates that the amount of leave available to eligible employees is based on the number of the employer’s employees:

  • 0-19 employees: no leave required
  • 20-49 employees: 1 week of unpaid leave required per year
  • 50+ employees: 2 weeks of unpaid leave required per year

If eligible, an employee may take this unpaid leave intermittently or on a reduced work schedule.  Any eligible employee must be returned to the same, or similarly equivalent, position upon return to work.  Finally, if the employee taking leave is covered by an employer’s group health plan, the employee’s (and any covered family or household member’s) coverage must be maintained during the eligible leave.  However, under certain circumstances, the premiums paid by the employer during the leave may be recovered from the employee if  they fail to return to work once the leave period has expired.            

The bottom line is that this is a new unpaid leave mandate for nearly all Missouri employers.  Employers would be well advised to post the VESSA notice as soon as possible and update their employee handbooks to reflect these new requirements.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month: How Can Your Organization Promote Mental Wellness?

Contributed by Suzanne Newcomb, May 22, 2019

The CDC reports that half of all Americans will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 46.6 million adults in the U.S., roughly 1 in 5, experience some form of mental illness in a given year, and for 11.2 million Americans each year, roughly 1 in 25, the condition is sufficiently severe and substantially limits major life activities. Yet, despite the wide prevalence of these conditions, our society continues to stigmatize mental illness. As a result, conditions often go untreated leading to reduced employee engagement, lost productivity, increased absenteeism and turnover.

Diagnosis of brain psychology flat design. Psychiatry therapy, disorder and meditation, emotion stress, human mind health, intellect and medicine, mental and neurology. Set of thin, lines icons

The ADA and the FMLA apply in equal measure to mental health issues and physical health issues. Mental health issues, however, are more difficult to spot and, because of stigma, employees are less likely to proactively seek assistance. To complicate matters, mental health conditions sometimes present as declining work performance or other behaviors which are easily misinterpreted as strictly disciplinary issues. Although employers need not tolerate performance deficiencies and employee misconduct, courts have found that an employee’s unusual behavior, in certain circumstances, can be sufficient to put the employer on notice of the need for FMLA leave or reasonable accommodation. Bottom line, there are no “magic words” necessary to trigger coverage under the FMLA or the ADA. Anything that puts an employer on notice of the existence of a disability, the need for an accommodation, or the need for leave can trigger obligations under the ADA and FMLA.

What can your organization do to combat stigma, promote employees’ mental wellness and legally protect itself?

1. Specifically address mental health issues in your employee policies and training. Openly discussing these issues not only reinforces to your employees that they can and should seek help when they face mental health issues, but also reduces stigma more generally.

2. Train supervisors to recognize the signs of mental illness. Though they vary, signs can include significant changes in mood, personality, demeanor or behavior; rapidly declining work performance; inability to concentrate; increased absenteeism; and overwhelming fear, worry or sadness.  

3. Embrace a holistic approach to employee wellness. Monitor and proactively manage employee workloads and job-related stress. Encourage healthy stress management such as physical exercise. Promote your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) by reminding employees of the confidential nature of the program, and encourage employees to use it. If you don’t have an EAP, consider implementing one.

4. Finally, never make light of mental health issues and do not tolerate remarks that disparage mental illness. Off handed remarks like “crazy,” “psycho,” or “nut job” may seem innocuous to some, but can be highly offensive and even damaging to an individual dealing with mental illness. The anti-discrimination provisions of the ADA, like Title VII, have been interpreted to prohibit harassment on the basis of disability. Off handed remarks can aggravate the situation even if the speaker did not intend harm.