New Jersey and New York City have recently enacted laws that expand the circumstances under which covered employers are required to provide leave to their employees.

In New Jersey, the Security and Financial Empowerment Act (“SAFE”) will enable employees whose lives have been impacted by domestic or sexually violent incidents to take up to 20 days of unpaid leave.  In New York City, the Earned Sick Time Act will grant eligible employees with up to 40 hours per year in paid sick leave.

New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act

On July 18, 2013, Governor Christie signed SAFE, which is expected to take effect on October 1, 2013.  SAFE requires employers to grant 20 days of unpaid leave to employees who are either victims of a domestic or sexually violent incident themselves, or whose child, parent, spouse or domestic or civil union partner is so victimized. Employees seeking leave pursuant to SAFE will have up to one year following the triggering incident to do so.

SAFE applies to employers who employed 25 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks during the current or immediately preceding year.  Covered employers are required to provide notice to employees of their rights under SAFE in the form and manner to be prescribed by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development. To benefit from SAFE, an employee must have worked for his or her employer for a minimum of 12 months, and for a minimum of 1,000 hours during that 12-month period.

The new statute does not bar an employer from requiring an employee to provide documentation – such as a restraining order or the certification of a social worker – substantiating the domestic or sexually violent incident entitling the employee to leave. The employee may elect, or the employer may require an employee, to use accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave during any portion of the 20-day leave period authorized by SAFE.

Under SAFE, an employee who is wrongfully denied leave may commence a civil action against his or her employer. The aggrieved employee may seek reinstatement, back pay, and attorney’s fees, and the violating employer may be exposed to civil penalties of up to $2,000 for its first violation, and up to $5,000 for subsequent violations.