NJ SAFE Heads To Christie's Desk

The Record ( — Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Record

A bill headed for Governor Christie's desk would allow victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse to receive up to 20 unpaid days off from work within a year of an incident, without fear of losing their jobs.

NJ SAFE, or the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act, passed in both the Senate and Assembly unanimously in late May.

"I really believe the bill is primarily about the victims — to have the least amount of upset [to their daily lives] or threat of losing their employment while they're going through the repair cycle of having been a crime victim," said Sen. Fred Madden, D-Washington Township in Gloucester County, one of the bill's primary sponsors.

The legislation also applies to an employee's children, spouses, families or partners who are victims of domestic violence, and to companies with more than 25 employees. Under the bill, employees can elect, or employers may require, that an employee use paid saved time off, like vacation time, concurrently during any part of the 20 days and follow the employer's paid leave policy.

Madden said he did not know specifically how many companies could be affected. According to Legal Momentum, a New York-based women's rights advocacy group, victims of domestic violence lose an average of 137 hours of work per year to seek medical attention, relocate or deal with legal issues.

Madden said he worked with business organizations to ensure employers' interests also were protected.

John Galandak, president of the Paramus-based Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, which has about 950 members, said NJ SAFE would help those who need it most.

"Businesses work hard to recruit and hire the best people they can find to work for them,'' Galandak said. "Once hired, companies invest and support those employees in many ways to build an effective team."

Yarrow Willman-Cole, an organizer for New Jersey Citizen Action, said the public interest organization generally supports NJ SAFE but believes the bill should guarantee paid sick days for victims.

Willman-Cole cited statistics from the Oregon-based Domestic Violence Resource Center showing that those with a lower annual income are at a three times higher risk of domestic violence or sexual abuse than those with higher incomes.

"Those are the folks that could least afford to take a day off work and not get paid," Willman-Colee said.

Another bill working its way through the Legislature that is sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, would guarantee paid earned sick time off for all employees and includes language to cover victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse.

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