Benefits & Compensation News

NJ passes leave law for violence victims: Will your state follow suit?

Employers in New Jersey will now have to provide job-protected leave to workers who were victims (or whose family members were victims) of domestic violence or sexual assault. Here’s what benefits pros should know about this law in the event this trend catches on in other states.

The “New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act” was just signed into law and is slated to take effect on Oct. 1, 2013.

Under the law, Jersey employers with 25 or more employees are required to provide eligible employees with 20 days of job-protected leave if they were victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.

It also allows eligible employees to take leave to care for certain family members who were victims of these offenses, and prohibits employers from taking adverse action against eligible employees for taking leave.

Eligibility requirements, leave conditions

To be eligible for job-protected leave under the law, employees are required to have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and for a minimum of 1,000 hours in a 12-month period. Employees must take leave within one year of a “qualifying event.” In other words, an employee has 12 months from the date a violent act occurred to take leave.

The law also provides a detailed list of what eligible employees can use their job-protected leave to do, which includes:

  • seek or receive medical treatment
  • obtain services from a victim services organization
  • get psychological or other counseling
  • participate in safety planning, moving, or taking other actions to increase safety
  • seek legal assistance, or
  • attend, participate in or prepare for criminal or civil court proceedings.

Leave under the law will run concurrently with other types of leave — e.g., FMLA leave — and firms can require workers to use their available accrued leave.

Intermittent leave is allowed under the law, however, workers must take it in increments no shorter than a full workday.

Documentation, non-compliance penalties

When it comes to documentation, employers can require workers to provide the following information to prove that the leave was necessary:

  • a copy of a restraining order
  • a letter from a prosecutor
  • proof of a conviction
  • medical documentation, or a certification from an agency or professional involved in assisting the victim, including social workers, shelter workers or religious leaders.

Like the FMLA, the law requires firms to post a notice about the new leave entitlement for eligible employees — although a sample notice hasn’t been issued yet.

The law calls for stiff penalties for employers that violate the law by unlawfully denying leave or retaliating against workers for taking it: between $1,000 and $2,000 for the initial violation; and up to $5,000 for any subsequent violations.

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