Domestic Violence Month is a time to reflect on a number of very sobering statistics. In the United States this year, it is estimated that 1 in 5 women and almost 1 out of every 10 men will be physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, girlfriend or date in their lifetime. It’s also known that one-third of women who are victims of homicide are murdered by their current or former partner. In New Jersey, the statistics are no less grim. Here, approximately 70,000 cases of domestic violence will be reported to the police in 2013, with an untold number of cases left unreported.
However, I am relieved to pass along some good news this month, in the form of the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJ SAFE Act). Enacted as of October 1, the act provides workplace leave to eligible employees who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault as defined under New Jersey law. An employee whose child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or civil union partner is a victim of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense may also be eligible for leave time.
What are the stipulations? The act applies to workplaces employing 25 or more people and covers unpaid leave of absence for a period not to exceed 20 days in a 12-month period. Additionally, the employee must have worked at least 1,000 hours during the immediately preceding 12-month period.
For eligible employees, the NJ SAFE Act covers time taken off from work for virtually any issue related to domestic violence or sexual assault, including medical appointments, meetings with a crisis counselor, time off from work to get settled in a safe house or new residence, court appearances, and attorney meetings. When made, the request on the part of the victim for the leave time must be treated as a confidential matter. The SAFE Act also prohibits retaliation and discrimination against employees who take leave.
In offering this expanded workplace protection to domestic violence and sexual assault victims, New Jersey joins a number of other states that have similar laws in place, including Colorado, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington.
For victims of domestic violence who need to heal and to take legal action to protect themselves, having this extra time may make the difference between someone who goes to court to seek a restraining order and someone who does not take this basic safety steps because they are concerned about missing work. How many lives will this save — and how many instances of recurrent domestic violence within a family will be stopped due directly to the NJ SAFE Act? Let’s revisit those statistics soon and hopefully see a difference.
Bari Zell Weinberger, Esq. is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, a certification achieved by only 2% of the attorneys in New Jersey. She has received a Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Rating based on the exemplary work in the field of family and matrimonial law. Only lawyers with the highest ethical standards and professional ability receive this Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Rating. She can be reached at (973) 520-8822, or visit her firm’s website www.weinbergerlawgroup.com.