By Laura A. Stutz

Earlier we posted about the increase in domestic violence and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which was extended in February 2013, and expanded to provide coverage to both male and female victims of various types of domestic violence.  (See With Domestic Violence Increasing, What Should Employers Do?”)  A growing number of states have followed the federal lead and undertaken steps to protect domestic violence victims.  On July 17, 2013, New Jersey joined those states and enacted the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (S-2177) (“SAFE Act”) to protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (as defined by N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19 and N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.6) from employment discrimination.

The SAFE Act, effective October 1, 2013, seeks to prevent employment discrimination against employees for taking time off from work to seek treatment or legal assistance or to engage in other activity relating to the offense.  The law also covers employees who are close family members of victims of domestic violence and sexually violent offenses.  The Act defines close family member as a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or civil union partner.

The Act applies to New Jersey employers with 25 or more employees and provides 20 days of unpaid job-protected leave to eligible employees in the 12-month period following the incident.  Intermittent leave may be taken in intervals no shorter than a day.  The leave is in addition to any leave the eligible employee may already be entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §2601 et seq. (“FMLA”), or the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“FLA”), N.J.S.A. 34:11B-1 et seq.  If the domestic violence-related leave request would also be covered under the FMLA or FLA, the leaves will run concurrently.  Employers are permitted to request documentation to support the leave request.  Such documentation is to be maintained strictly confidential unless disclosure is voluntarily authorized in writing by the employee or required by law, rule or regulation.

The Act requires New Jersey employers to conspicuously display a notice of employees’ rights under the law and to “use other appropriate means to keep its employees informed.”  The form of notice is to be provided by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development; what is necessary for compliance with the “other appropriate means” provision is not yet clear.

Employers should consider federal and state legal requirements when addressing requests for leave or other accommodations for victims of domestic or sexual violence, and should review their leave policies and procedures to ensure compliance.