Women’s rights groups are hailing a little-noticed provision of the 2018 New Jersey Earned Sick Leave Act which they say offers victims of domestic or sexual violence an essential respite to seek professional help.
The law extends the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act of 2013, which provided employees with an unpaid leave of absence for a period not to exceed 20 days in a 12-month period. The 2018 law provides 40 hours of job-protected paid leave over the same period. Both apply to victims of sexual or domestic violence, but advocates say the paid leave provision is especially meaningful.
“It is important that survivors of domestic or sexual assault are provided job protected leave to care for their health or that of another family member or attend to legal and other issues. Without pay during that leave, many are unable to afford to take the time,” said Karen White, director of policy analysis and community engagement at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work at the School of Management and Labor Relations.
Five crucial days
“Not everyone can afford to go without 20 days of pay,” White said. “The 2018 law lets workers take five paid days off. Based on the research, we know that paid time off from work is an important factor in a survivor’s ability to find medical care, shelter and legal assistance.”
Debra Lancaster, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, said domestic violence is a pervasive public health issue that affects one in four women, and one in seven men, and affects employees in the workplace.
“You may not always see a bruise or a scar but there may be other suffering that is taking place,” Lancaster said. “This law allows employees to take advantage of their earned sick time to take care of themselves and their loved ones in the time of crisis or need.”
She said the law is a step forward for New Jersey in signaling to employers and employees that it is all right to seek help and not suffer in silence.
“It’s not the employer’s job to solve the problem of domestic violence, but they can play a pivotal role by understanding and linking an employee to a resource,” Lancaster said.
White questions why it took so long for New Jersey to recognize the need and respond.
“Job security is a critical component of providing the paid time off to these workers and to allow them to not lose the job at a time when they are most financially vulnerable,” she said.
Beth Battaglino, CEO of Red Bank-based Healthy Women, a health information source for women, said victims of domestic violence are almost twice as likely to be women.
“The new law will particularly help lower income women who may be the least able to take unpaid time off,” Battaglino said. “It is also important to recognize that domestic violence can have long-lasting implications. Many times victims will lose earnings because of time lost from work or from losing their job while they receive treatment.”
A report by the Office of the Attorney General and the New Jersey State Police showed that women were victims in 74 percent of the 63,420 domestic offenses reported in the state in 2016, an increase of 3 percent over the previous year.
A 2012 study by researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and West Virginia University revealed domestic violence is the second-leading cause of workplace homicides among women in the U.S.
Of the 648 women murdered on the job between 2003 and 2008, 26 percent died at the hands of an intimate partner. That is greater than the number of women killed by a co-worker (14 percent) or customer/client (14 percent).