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April 23, 2014

New Jersey Safe Act Provides Unpaid Leave For Victims Of Domestic Violence

On July 13, 2013, Governor Chris Christie signed the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (New Jersey SAFE Act) into law.  Effective on October 1, 2013, the New Jersey SAFE Act, covering public and private employers with 25 or more employees, provides up to 20 days of unpaid leave in one 12-month period when an employee or their child, parent, spouse, domestic or civil union partner has been the victim of a domestic violence incident or a sexually violent offense and the employee has been employed by the employer for at least 12 months and 1,000 base hours during the 12-month period immediately preceding the leave.

Under the New Jersey SAFE Act, each incident of domestic violence or any sexually violent offense constitutes a separate offense for which the eligible employee may take leave, so long as the employee has not already exhausted the allotted 20 days for the 12-month period.  The unpaid leave may be taken intermittently in intervals of no less than one day, as needed for the employee or the employee’s family or household member to handle issues arising from the incident such as:

Seeking medical attention for, or recovering from the injures caused by the domestic or sexual violence;

Obtaining services from a victim services organization;

Obtaining psychological or other counseling;

Participating in safety planning, relocation or other activities to increase the safety of the employee or the employee’s family or household member and to ensure economic security;

Seeking legal assistance to ensure the health and safety of the employee or the employee’s family or household member; or

Attending, participating in, or preparing for a court proceeding related to the incident of which the employee or the employee’s family or household member was the victim.

An eligible employee may elect, or the employer may require, the employee to use any or all accrued paid time off during any part of the 20-day leave provided under the New Jersey SAFE Act.   If the employee’s request for leave under the New Jersey SAFE Act is also covered by the New Jersey Family Leave Act or the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the leave must count simultaneously against the employee’s entitlement under each law.

Before taking leave under the New Jersey SAFE Act, the employee must give the employer written notice, if the necessity for the leave is foreseeable, as far in advance as reasonable and practical under the circumstances.  An employer may also require the employee to substantiate the domestic violence or sexually violent offense which is the basis for the leave.  If the employee provides one or more of the types of documentation listed in the Act such as a restraining order or a letter from the prosecutor, it will be deemed sufficient.

All documentation regarding the leave must be retained by the employer in strictest confidence unless the employee voluntarily authorizes disclosure or it is required by federal or State law, rule or regulation.

The employer must conspicuously display notice of employees’ rights and obligations under the New Jersey SAFE Act in a manner to be prescribed by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, and must use “other appropriate means to keep its employees so informed.”  Neither the posting, nor guidance regarding what other appropriate means must be used has been issued.

The New Jersey SAFE Act prohibits discrimination, harassment and retaliation against employees who have exercised their rights under the Act.  Aggrieved individuals have a private right of action within one year of the alleged violation to bring suit in Superior Court for recovery of the fully array of damages available to a prevailing plaintiff in common law tort actions, including reinstatement, compensation for lost wages and benefits, an injunction to restrain continued violations and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.  In addition, the employer may be assessed a civil fine of $1,000 or up to $2,000 for a first violation, and up to $5,000 for any subsequent violations.

©2014 Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved

About the Author

Counsel

Marion B. Cooper is counsel in the Labor & Employment Practice Group. Marion is engaged in the representation of management in all aspects of traditional labor and employment matters and is located in Drinker Biddle’s Florham Park office. 

Marion publishes in the Labor Sphere blog.

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