New Jersey grants the right to take leave from work to victims of domestic violence and their family members.

On July 17, Governor Chris Christie signed into law the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (SAFE Act), which provides victims of domestic violence and their family members the right to take 20 days of unpaid leave within the year following an incident of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense. The SAFE Act takes effect on October 1, 2013.

The SAFE Act covers the vast majority of employers in New Jersey, including all private and public entities with 25 or more employees. Employees will be eligible for leave pursuant to the act if they have worked for their current employer for at least 12 months total and at least 1,000 hours in the 12-month period preceding the leave.

The SAFE Act provides leave to eligible employees who (1) are a victim of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense or (2) have a family member—defined as a parent, child, spouse, domestic partner, or civil union spouse of the employee—who is a victim of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense. Leave under the SAFE Act may be taken for any of the following reasons:

  1. To seek medical attention or recover from physical or psychological injuries resulting from a domestic violence or a sexually violent offense
  2. To obtain services from a victim services organization
  3. To obtain psychological counseling
  4. To participate in safety planning, relocating, or other actions to increase the safety of the employee or to ensure economic security
  5. To seek legal assistance to ensure health and safety or to participate in civil or criminal proceedings related to or derived from a domestic violence or a sexually violent offense
  6. To attend, participate in, or prepare for a civil or criminal court proceeding

The SAFE Act requires employees to provide advance written notice of the leave whenever the need for leave is foreseeable. Employers may require documentation of the need for leave, which may include a restraining order, a letter from the prosecutor's office, documentation regarding the conviction of the abuser, medical documentation, a certification from a domestic violence specialist or rape crisis center, or documentation from a religious or social services professional who has assisted the employee or the employee's family member. The act provides that any documentation submitted by the employee to support the need for leave must be maintained by the employer with the "strictest confidentiality."

Private Causes of Action

A covered employee may sue for violations of the SAFE Act, and a court may award fines between $1 and $2,000 for the first violation of the statute and up to $5,000 for subsequent violations. In addition, a court may order injunctive relief, reinstatement with back pay, and attorney fees. Claims under the act will be subject to a one-year statute of limitations.

Employee Notice Requirements

New Jersey employers must post notice of employees' rights under the SAFE Act in a conspicuous location as provided by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Interaction with Paid Time Off and Other Federal and State Leave Laws

The act states that employers may require employees to use any accrued paid time off concurrently with their SAFE Act leave. Likewise, employers should run SAFE Act leave concurrently with leave taken pursuant to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) wherever the reason for leave is covered by more than one of these laws. Employers may not, however, require employees to exhaust either accrued paid time off or FMLA or NJFLA leave before taking leave pursuant to the SAFE Act.

Moving Forward

Employers should consider revising their leave policies to reflect the changes set forth in the SAFE Act and should be sure that human resources employees and leave administrators are aware of its provisions. Employers should also be on the lookout for further guidance from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which is expected to issue guidelines on the implementation of the act, including specific notice and posting requirements in the near future.