New Jersey Employers Required to Provide Domestic Violence Leave
On July 17, 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJ SAFE Act). Effective October 1, 2013, the law requires private and public employers with at least 25 employees to provide unpaid leave to any employee who was a victim of domestic violence or whose child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or civil union partner was a victim of domestic violence.
Under the Act, an eligible employee (defined as one who has been employed for at least 12 months by the employer and for at least 1,000 base hours during the immediately preceding 12-month period) is entitled to up to 20 days unpaid leave in one 12-month period to use in the 12-month period following any incident of domestic violence or any sexually violent offense (“qualifying event”). Each qualifying event constitutes a separate offense for which the employee is entitled to leave. The leave may be taken intermittently in intervals of no less than one day for the purpose of engaging in any of the following activities:
- Seeking medical attention for physical or psychological injuries;
- Obtaining services from a victim services organization;
- Obtaining psychological or other counseling;
- Participating in safety planning, temporarily or permanently relocating, or taking other actions to increase the victim’s safety or to ensure his or her economic security;
- Seeking legal assistance or remedies to ensure the health and safety of the victim, including preparing for or participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to or derived from domestic or sexual violence; or
- Attending, participating in or preparing for a criminal or civil court proceeding related to an incident of domestic or sexual violence.
An eligible employee may elect, or an employer may require the employee, to use any of the employee’s accrued paid vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave while taking leave pursuant to the Act. In such cases, the employee’s paid leave and unpaid leave under the Act will run concurrently. In the event, the employee requests leave for a reason covered by the Act and the federal Family Medical Leave Act or the New Jersey Family Leave Act, the leave will count against the employee’s entitlements under each law.
If an employee foresees that leave is necessary, he or she must provide the employer written notice as far in advance as is reasonable and practical under the circumstances. Additionally, the employer may require the employee to provide documentation supporting the employee’s leave under the Act. “Sufficient” documentation listed in the statute includes, among others, a domestic violence restraining order or a letter from the county or municipal prosecutor.
The Act also includes a posting requirement for employers. An employer must conspicuously display a notice of employees’ rights and obligations under the Act in a form to be determined by the New Jersey Department of Labor and “use other appropriate means to keep its employees so informed.”
Finally, employers are prohibited from discharging, harassing, discriminating or retaliating against an employee for taking or requesting leave under the Act. Aggrieved employees can bring a private cause of action in civil court within one year of the alleged violation and will be eligible to receive all remedies available in common law tort actions.
For questions regarding the NJ SAFE Act, or other leave questions, please feel free to contact an attorney in the Gibbons Employment & Labor Department.