Governor Chris Christie recently signed into law the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJ SAFE). This landmark law will provide victims of domestic violence and sexual assault with the right to take unpaid leave.
On October 1, 2013, the law will take effect and start providing eligible employees with unpaid time off to take care of family matters related to domestic violence or sexual assault that was committed either against the employee or one of his or her family members/household members.
Under this groundbreaking bill, employees now have the right to sue their employers if leave is denied or if the employee is the victim of wrongful discrimination or retaliation due to requesting leave.
To be eligible for protection under the NJ SAFE Act, a person must be employed for at least 12 months (although they do not need to be consecutive months) and for at least 1,000 base hours during the immediately preceding 12-month period.
A covered employee who is a victim of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense or whose family member is a victim, will be entitled to unpaid leave for up to 20 days in one 12-month period, but it must be used in the 12-month period following an incident.
Additionally, this new law makes it unlawful for an employer to threaten or discharge, harass, or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee because the employee took or requested NJ SAFE Act leave.
Employers will likely need to (among other things) evaluate and update policies regarding leaves of absence; establish a lawful administrative process for evaluating, granting, and denying leave requests; ensure the confidentiality of all information related to leave requests; and train human resources personnel on the requirements under the NJ SAFE Act.
Although the NJ SAFE Act did not amend the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) to include victims of domestic violence or sexual assault as a protected class, this new law sets the stage for such a step to be taken in the future if need be.