Author: Melissa Burdorf, XpertHR Legal Editor
July 24, 2013
New Jersey has joined the list of states that must provide certain employees with leave from work when the employee, or a close family member, is a victim of a domestic or sexually violent offense under a new law going into effect on October 1, the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJ SAFE Act or SAFE Act). Prior to that date, New Jersey employers subject to the new law should:
- Review and modify leave, retaliation and discrimination policies;
- Ensure proper leave administration practices are in place including - tracking concurrent leaves, providing employees with notice, properly displaying posters and ensuring the confidentiality of documentation provided in conjunction with leave;
- Update handbooks in print and on the intranet to include information on the SAFE Act; and
- Train HR and supervisors on the new law.
Under the SAFE Act, New Jersey employers with 25 or more employees must provide employees with up to 20 days of unpaid leave if the employee:
- Worked for the employer for at least one year and 1,000 base hours during the 12-months immediately preceding the leave;
- Was victimized by domestic violence or sexual assault in the past year; or
- Has a close family member (i.e., parent, child, spouse, domestic partner or civil union partner) who was victimized by domestic violence or sexual assault in the past year.
An eligible employee may take leave in a single block of time or intermittently so that the employee, or the employee's close family member, can:
- Get medical attention for injuries caused by the incident;
- Receive help from a victim services organization or psychological or other counseling;
- Take part in safety planning, including temporarily or permanently relocating;
- Seek legal assistance; or
- Take part in or attend a criminal or civil court proceeding relating to the incident.
NJ Assemblyman Angel Fuentes stated that the main purpose of the leave time is to give victims the increased support needed during a very difficult time.
An employer can require advance written notice of the needed leave (if leave is planned) and written proof that the employee took leave for a reason related to the incident (e.g., a domestic violence restraining order or a letter from the prosecutor). If an employer requires this documentation, it must keep the information confidential to the extent permitted by law, or it must receive consent from the employee to disclose the information.
An employer can require an employee to use any accrued paid vacation, personal, medical or sick leave (PTO) during any part of the 20-day period of unpaid leave. Leave under the SAFE Act may also be covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA). In such cases the leaves will run concurrently.
An employer must conspicuously display a notice of employees' rights under the SAFE Act and use "other appropriate means to keep its employees informed" (e.g., providing a summary of leave rights in a handbook or giving a copy of the notice when an employee requests leave). The Department of Labor and Workforce Development is expected to supply employers with a model notice prior to October 1.
If an employer fails to provide leave, discriminates or retaliates against an employee for exercising his or her rights under the SAFE Act, the employer can face civil penalties of $1,000 to $2,000 for the first incident and up to $5,000 for each additional violation.
A copy of the law can be accessed from the New Jersey Legislature's website.
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