New Jersey employers with 25 or more employees should be aware that as of October 1, 2013, employees will be entitled to a new form of unpaid leave.
The New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (“NJ SAFE”) provides 20 days of unpaid leave to eligible employees who become the victims of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense. NJ SAFE also permits an eligible employee to take leave when his or her child, parent, spouse, domestic partner or civil union partner has been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
Employees are eligible if they have been employed by the company for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,000 hours during that timeframe. Each incident of violence constitutes an offense which entitles the employee to leave, so long as the employee does not take more than a maximum of 20 days in any 12 month period.
An employee is to use the leave to: seek medical attention or recover from physical or psychological injuries; obtain services from victim services organizations; obtain psychological or other counseling; relocate or take other safety precautions; seek legal assistance or other remedies to ensure the health and safety of the victim or the victim’s family; or attend, participate in or prepare for a criminal or civil court proceeding relating to an incident. Accordingly, the leave may be taken all at once or intermittently, as needed.
An employer may require the employee to use any accrued paid vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave during the 20-day absence. Further, any Family Medical Leave (FMLA) or NJ Family Leave Act (FLA) leave will run concurrently with the leave provided by NJ SAFE.
Discrimination, harassment and retaliation against employees who have requested or used leave is expressly prohibited and NJ SAFE provides employees with a private right of action in civil court. Remedies include reinstatement, compensation for lost wages and benefits, injunctive relief, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. Significant fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 may also apply. The statute of limitations for bringing suit is one year.
Employers should also note that in as of October 1, 2013, workplace signage should be updated to notify employees of their NJ SAFE rights and entitlement to leave after incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault.