On Oct. 1, 2013, a new law took effect in New Jersey that allows a victim of domestic abuse and sexual violence, or his or her close relatives, to take up to 20 days of leave, incrementally by day or consecutively, annually from their jobs in order to tend to medical, logistical and legal needs related to the incident.

According to Forbes, New Jersey joins at least 12 other states with similar laws.

The New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act, known as the NJ SAFE Act, allows victims and their close family members to take important steps – without fear of reprisal for missing work – to protect themselves or their relatives from further violence; to care for themselves, their children and other loved ones; and to participate in legal proceedings such as those against perpetrators or for restraining orders.

Protected time off work is allowed for these important activities related to such incidents:

  • Medical care or recovery from physical or psychological injuries.
  • Services from a “victim services organization.”
  • Counseling.
  • Safety planning, relocating or other actions to increase future safety.
  • Legal assistance, and legal and court proceedings.

Who is covered

Unfortunately, smaller private employers are not required to provide this leave. Private employers must have at least 25 employees over time according to a specific formula. Public employers are also covered by the law.

To be eligible for leave, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and have put in at least 1,000 hours in the 12 months before the incident for which leave is sought.

Victims and certain relatives of victims are leave protected: children, parents, spouses, domestic partners and civil union partners. Any of these relatives may take leave to assist victims with the allowed activities, to engage in the activities themselves or to participate in related legal proceedings.

Other provisions

Some of the other main provisions of the SAFE Act include:

  • If the leave is foreseeable, the employer may require written notice, and may also request documentation of the protected activity for which leave is taken. The content of this documentation must be kept confidential in most situations.
  • Employers must prominently display notice of these rights in the workplace as required by state officials and keep employees informed of these rights.
  • It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against or harass any employee for exercising his or her rights under the law.
  • And more.

Right to sue

The NJ SAFE Act gives a covered employee the right to sue his or her employer in state court for a violation within one year. Relief available in such a lawsuit includes fines, lost compensation and benefits, costs and legal fees. The court may also order the employer to stop violating the Act, to rehire the employee with full benefits and seniority, or both.

Seek legal counsel

This article is only a brief overview of the highlights of the new leave law. To understand how it applies to you as a victim, victim’s relative or employer, seek the advice of a New Jersey family lawyer.