On July 17, Governor Christie signed the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJ SAFE Act) into law. The Act entitles employees covered by the Act who themselves are victims of domestic violence or of a sexually violent offense, or who are spouses, parents, children, domestic partners, or civil union partners of such victims, to up to 20 days of unpaid leave in the twelve month period following the occurrence of the offense for the following reasons:
- To seek or assist in the seeking of medical attention for physical or psychological injuries stemming from the offense.
- To obtain services from a victim services organization.
- To obtain psychological counseling.
- To take action to increase the safety of the victim’s household.
- To seek legal assistance to ensure the victim’s health and safety.
- To participate in a criminal or civil court proceeding arising from the incident.
Such leave may be taken continuously or intermittently in intervals no smaller than one day.
The Act applies to all employers, including governmental employers, employing 25 or more employees “during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the then current or immediately preceding calendar year.” An employee of such an employer is covered by the Act if he or she has worked for such an employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,000 during the 12 month period immediately preceding the employee’s request for leave.
Covered employers must conspicuously display notice of employees’ rights and obligations under the Act and may not engage in adverse employment actions, such as firings, against an employee because the employee has exercised his or her rights under the Act. Employees have a private right of action and may file suit over an employer’s violation of the Act within 1 year of the occurrence of the violation. In addition to all remedies ordinarily available to such employees, a court may order
- payment of a civil fine of between $1,000 and $2,000 for a first offense and up to $5,000 for a subsequent offense;
- injunctive relief;
- back pay; and|
- the payment of the employee’s attorneys fees and litigation costs.
An employee must provide written notice, “as far in advance as is reasonable and practical under the circumstances,” if the need for the leave is foreseeable. An employer can require documentation of the need for such leave.
Employers can require an employee, and employees may elect, to use accrued paid sick, personal, and/or vacation time during the period of leave. Employers cannot require an employee to first exhaust leave provided pursuant to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), or the employer’s policies. If, however, the reason for the leave is covered both by the Act and the FMLA and/or NJFLA, the time used shall count against the employee’s entitlement under each statute. Employers cannot reduce the employment benefits of an employee out on leave provided under the Act.
The city of Philadelphia enacted a similar ordinance, the Domestic Violence Unpaid Leave Law, in 2009. Under that ordinance, covered employees who are victims of domestic violence are entitled to up to eight weeks of unpaid leave.
The SAFE Act will take effect October 1, 2013.