The New Jersey Department of Labor has issued the notice required to be posted under the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (“NJ SAFE” Act). The NJ SAFE Act goes into effect on October 1, 2013. The statute requires employers to provide up to 20 days of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to eligible employees who have been the victim of an incident of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense or whose child, parent, spouse, domestic partner or civil union partner was a victim of such an act. (For more on the NJ SAFE Act, please see New Jersey Employers Must Provide Unpaid Leave to Victims of Domestic Violence under New Law.)
The statute requires employers to post a notice in a conspicuous place in the workplace, advising employees of their rights and obligations under the Act. To ensure compliance with the statute, New Jersey employers must obtain and display a copy of the poster by October 1, 2013. The poster is available from the New Jersey Commissioner of the Labor and Workforce Development website.
The statute requires employers to “use other appropriate means to keep its employees so informed.” Although the New Jersey Department of Labor has not clarified what is considered “other appropriate means,” it is clear that employers should be taking some other action, in addition to posting the notice, to keep employees informed of their rights and obligations under the Act. As this language is similar to that found in the New Jersey Family Leave Act, employers should consider including a written policy on the NJ SAFE Act in the employee handbook or distributing a copy of the notice to all current employees and to new employees upon hire.
Employers also should consider educating their supervisors and managers as to rights and obligations under the Act. Further, New Jersey employers with operations in states that have similar laws should consult with counsel to ensure that they are in compliance with the specific provisions of all such leave laws.
To be eligible, the employee seeking leave must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,000 base hours in the 12-month period immediately preceding the leave. Further, the employee must take the 20 days of unpaid leave within one year of the qualifying event.
The unpaid leave time permits affected eligible individuals:
- to seek medical attention for physical or psychological injuries;
- to obtain services from a victim services organization; pursue psychological or other counseling;
- to participate in safety planning for temporary or permanent relocation;
- to seek legal assistance to ensure health and safety of the employee or the employee’s relative; and
- to attend, participate in, or prepare for a criminal or civil court proceeding relating to an incident of domestic or sexual violence.
An eligible employee may elect or an employer may require the employee to use accrued paid vacation leave, personal time or sick leave and have unpaid and paid leave run concurrently. In addition, if the reason for leave is covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 or the New Jersey Family Leave Act, the leave can be counted against the employee’s entitlement under that law.
Employees who believe a violation of the NJ SAFE Act has occurred may bring a private cause of action in the Superior Court of New Jersey seeking:
- a civil fine between $1,000 and $2,000 for the first offense and up to $5,000 for each subsequent violation;
- reinstatement to the same or equivalent position;
- reinstatement of full fringe benefits and seniority rights;
- lost wages, benefits and other remuneration; and
- attorney’s fees and costs and injunctive and equitable relief.