Contributed by Sara Zorich
On July 17, 2013, Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, signed into law the “New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act” (“NJ SAFE Act”) to assist victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The NJ SAFE Act is applicable to private employers in New Jersey that have 25 or more employees and is effective as of October 1, 2013. Pursuant to the Act, employers must display a conspicuous notice of employees’ rights and obligations under the Act, in a form to be provided by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and to use “other appropriate means to keep its employees informed.” No notice is yet available from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Eligible employees (defined by the Act as those who have been employed for at least 12 months and have at least 1,000 base hours during the 12-month period immediately preceding the leave) in New Jersey are entitled to up to 20 days of unpaid leave, as needed, within one year of the incident, if they or their spouse, parent, child, domestic partner or civil union partner are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. The leave must be taken related to the domestic violence or sexual assault for any one of the following purposes: (1) seeking medical attention for, or recovering from, physical or psychological injuries; (2) obtaining services from a victim organization; (3) obtaining psychological or other counseling; (4) participating in safety planning, relocation, or taking other actions to increase safety; (5) seeking legal assistance or remedies to ensure health and safety; or (6) attending, participating in or preparing for a criminal or civil court proceeding relating to the incident.
If the leave is foreseeable, employees must provide employers with as much written notice as is reasonable and practical of the need for leave under NJ SAFE Act. Employers may require or employees may choose to exhaust accrued paid leave (i.e. vacation, PTO, sick time, etc.) during their leave provided by NJ SAFE Act before using unpaid time.
Employers may require documentation to support the leave for which any of the following are sufficient: (1) restraining order or other documentation of relief issued by the court; (2) letter from the prosecutor; (3) documentation of offender’s conviction; (4) medical documentation of incident; (5) certification from a certified Domestic Violence Specialist, director of designated domestic violence agency or Rape Crisis Center or (6) other documentation by a social worker, clergy, shelter worker or other professional assisting with the incident. All information provided must be kept confidential by the employer and employers may not retaliate or discriminate against an employee for taking leave under the Act.