New Jersey is the latest state to require that employers offer any workers who are victims of domestic violence unpaid leave to seek medical attention, recover from injuries, seek out services and legal assistance, get counseling, relocate, or participate in court proceedings. The New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (SAFE Act) went into effect on Tuesday.
Under the new law, employers with 25 or more workers must provide up to 20 days of leave a year. Employees are eligible for the leave after they’ve been at a job for more than a year and work 1,000 hours in the previous 12 months.
New Jersey joins a handful of other states that have passed laws that guarantee victims time off from work. Twelve other states and Washington, DC provide workers with some sort of leave, ranging from three days of unpaid time off in Colorado to 12 weeks in Connecticut, according to advocacy group Legal Momentum. Some states, like California, Maine, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington, simply say employees can take “reasonable” leave.
For those who live in the 37 other states, however, there is no guarantee that a worker who needs time off to care for herself or seek remedies after experiencing abuse can do so without being fired from her job.
Victims of domestic violence also face other challenges. Only six states bar employers from firing victims based on their abuse. That meant that in June, Carie Charlesworth, a teacher in California and a victim of domestic violence, was fired when her abusive husband showed up and put the school on lockdown. Since then, the California state legislature has passed a bill that would protect victims from employment discrimination, and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has until October 13 to sign it. A federal law that would make sure workers in all states are protected was introduced in March, but it has gone no where, as it hasn’t been referred to committee and has no vote scheduled.
Discrimination also awaits outside the workplace. “Crime-free housing” ordinances across the country mean that domestic violence victims can be kicked out of their apartments for calling the police on their abusers a certain number of times. There are about 60 known ordinances across the country. While 25 states and DC have laws that are supposed to protect victims from eviction for calling the police, some are very weak and many have documentation requirements that could be prohibitive.
These hurdles can be extremely dangerous for women in abusive situations. Nearly three-quarters of abused women were harassed at work. Three-quarters of women report staying with an abuser longer than they otherwise would have due to economic troubles. Twenty percent of homeless women say the primary reason is domestic violence.