On July 18, 2013, Governor Chris Christie signed the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (“Act”), S.R. 2177, P.L. 2013, c. 82, which takes effect October 1, 2013. The new law provides up to 20 days of unpaid leave to employees who have been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, as defined in New Jersey’s Code of Criminal Justice. The Act also allows employee leave time where the employee’s parent, child, spouse, domestic partner or civil-union partner has been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The Act applies to all employers, public and private, that employ 25 or more employees for at least 20 calendar weeks in the then-current or the immediately-preceding year. The Act covers employees who have worked for the employer for a minimum of 1,000 hours in the preceding 12 months.
The 20 days of unpaid leave can be taken consecutively or intermittently, with a 1 day minimum interval. If multiple acts of domestic violence or sexual assault occur in a one year period, each incident counts as a separate offense for which the employee is entitled to unpaid leave, but regardless of the number of incidents, the employee may only take a maximum of 20 days of leave in a 12-month period.
Employees may take leave under the NJ SAFE Act for activities relating to an incident of domestic violence or sexual assault against themselves or their parent, child, spouse, domestic partner or civil-union partner, including:
- seeking medical attention for, or recovering from, physical or psychological injuries caused by domestic or sexual assault;
- 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 their safety from future domestic violence or sexual assault or to ensure their economic security;
- seeking legal assistance or remedies to ensure their health and safety, including preparing for, or participating in, any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to or derived from domestic violence or sexual assault of which the employee or his/her parent, child, spouse, domestic partner or civil union partner was the victim.
Employees may choose, and employers may require, that the employee exhaust accrued vacation, personal or medical/sick time before using the 20-day leave provided by the Act, and in those cases, time taken under those provisions runs concurrently with the 20-day period under the Act.
Similarly, if an employee requests leave for a reason covered under both the Act and the New Jersey Family Leave Act, N.J.S.A. 34:11B-1 et seq., the New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law, N.J.S.A. 43:21-25 et seq., or the federal Family & Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §2601 et seq., time taken under the Act runs concurrently with the employee’s entitlement to leave under those other statutes.
If the employee knows that the leave is reasonably foreseeable, he or she is required to provide written advance notice to the employer.
Employers may require confirming documentation for leave taken under the Act, including:
- a domestic violence restraining order or other documentation of equitable relief issued by the court of competent jurisdiction;
- a letter or other written documentation from the county or municipal prosecutor documenting the domestic violence or sexual assault offense;
- documentation of conviction of a person for the domestic violence or sexual assault offense;
- medical documentation of the domestic violence or sexual assault offense;
- certification from the Domestic Violence Specialist or the director of a designated domestic violence agency or Rape Crisis Center; or
- other documentation or certification of the domestic violence or sexual assault offense provided by a social worker, member of the clergy, shelter worker or other professional who has provided assistance to the employee or the employee’s covered person.
The Act prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their rights under the Act, such as discharge, demotion, harassment, reduction of benefits or threats to take such actions. Employees may bring a civil action against an employer for violation of the Act and may recover: reinstatement; civil fines of $1,000 to $2,000 for the first violation and up to $5,000 for each subsequent violation; injunctive relief; compensation for lost wages, benefits, seniority rights or other remuneration; and reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees. Any such action must be initiated within one year of the alleged violation.