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Madden-Beach Legislation Creating ‘Nj Safe Act’ Heads To Governor’s Desk

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Measure Would Allow Unpaid Leave for Victims of Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Fred H. Madden and Jim Beach that would provide unpaid leave for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault received final legislative approval today in the General Assembly.

“Victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault experience lasting physical and psychological wounds that carry into all aspects of their lives, including the workplace,” said Madden, D-Gloucester and Camden. “This legislation is needed so that the crime victims can pursue medical treatment, obtain necessary counseling and appear in court as required – without fear of losing their jobs. Providing victims and their families the time they need to put their lives back together is a matter of simple, common decency.”

The bill, S-2177, also known as the “New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act” or the “NJ SAFE Act” would provide 20 days of unpaid leave time to an employee who is the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault or whose parent, child, spouse, or civil partner was the victim. The leave could be taken within one year of the incident, and used intermittently in intervals of no less than one day. Provided that the employee has not exhausted the allotted 20 days for the 12-month period, each violent incident would constitute a separate incident for which a victim is entitled to unpaid leave. Provisions of the bill would not apply to employers with less than 25 employees for each working day.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault are crippling ordeals, and victims are often left to bear these burdens alone,” said Beach, D-Camden. “Survivors and witnesses of domestic violence and sexual assault should not be penalized for taking time off work to obtain the medical and judicial assistance they need. This legislation will go a long way to help alleviate that burden, and allow victims and their families to begin the healing process.”

Under the bill, an employee may elect or an employer may require an employee to use accrued paid vacation leave, personal time, or medical leave during any part of the 20-day period of unpaid leave authorized by the bill. In such a case, paid leave would run concurrent to the unpaid leave and follow the employer’s applicable paid leave policy. The bill would also require an employer to conspicuously display employees’ rights and obligations pursuant to this bill, and prohibit an employer from committing or threatening discharge, harassment, retaliation, or other discrimination against an employee with respect to any leave to which the employee is entitled by this bill.

Leave time would allow the victim or parent, child, spouse, or civil partner of the victim to: seek medication attention for physical or psychological injuries; obtain services from a victim services organization; pursue psychological or other counseling; participate in planning like temporary or permanent relocation to increase safety; seek legal assistance; and attend, participate in, or prepare for a criminal or civil court proceeding.

According to Legal Momentum, a New York-based advocacy group, victims of domestic violence lose an average of 137 hours of work per year. Some victims need time off to seek medical attention, obtain a restraining order, or relocate to a safe place. Others are prevented from getting work when an abuser disables or takes the car, sabotages childcare arrangements, or leaves the victim without cash to use public transportation. These problems have led 11 states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Washington, and the District of Columbia to enact laws providing victims or witnesses to domestic violence the right to take some time off work, according to the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 38-0 last Monday. The Assembly approved it today by a vote of 77-0. It now heads to the desk of the governor.

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