Victims of Domestic Violence Now Entitled to Protected Leave in New Jersey

On July 17, 2013, Governor Chris Christie signed into law the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJ SAFE Act), which provides eligible employees with unpaid time off to attend to a variety of matters related to an act of domestic violence or sexual assault committed against the employee or a family or household member.  The law goes into effect this year on October 1st.

New Jersey employers need to be aware of the NJ SAFE Act’s key provisions:

  • The Act applies to private employers with 25 or more employees, and to all public offices, agencies, boards and government bodies in the State.
  • The employee must be employed for at least 12 months (need not be consecutive), and have worked at least 1,000 base hours during the immediately preceding 12-month period, to be eligible for leave.
  • A covered employee who is a victim of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense (“qualifying incident”), or whose child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or civil union partner (“family member”) is a victim, is entitled to unpaid leave of at least 20 days in one 12-month period.
  • The leave must be taken in the 12-month period immediately following any qualifying incident.
  • Employees may take leave to engage in any of the following activities (either for themselves or for a family member):
    • Seeking medical attention for, or recovering from, physical or psychological injuries caused by the incident;
    • 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, 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 relating to an incident of domestic or sexual violence.
    • Unpaid leave may be taken intermittently in intervals of at least one day, within the 12-month period following the qualifying incident.
    • Each qualifying incident is a separate offense for which an employee is entitled to unpaid leave, provided he or she has not exhausted the allotted 20 days for the 12-month period.
    • The employer may request documentation supporting the need for leave.
    • The employer may not threaten or discharge, harass or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee because the employee took or requested NJ SAFE Act leave.
    • The employer must post a notice advising employees of their rights and obligations under the law (the NJ Department of Labor will create a poster shortly).

This outline is general in nature and does not cover every detail or provision of the NJ SAFE Act.  Employers should seek the advice and guidance of experienced legal counsel in crafting a comprehensive NJ SAFE Act policy for their workplace.

Notably, the Act does not amend the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJ LAD) to include victims of domestic violence or sexual assault as a protected class.  However, employers must still be mindful of the potential interplay between the NJ SAFE Act and state (NJ LAD) and federal (Title VII) anti-discrimination laws.