By: Eric D. Engelman
On October 15, 2019, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission (“CSC”) distributed a uniform Domestic Violence Policy (“Policy”) which all New Jersey public employers must follow. As defined in the enabling legislation, public employers include the State and any counties, municipalities, school districts, or political subdivisions thereof, as well as any agency, authority or instrumentality thereof.
All public employers are required to adopt the Policy, or a modified version of the Policy, even if they are not otherwise governed by the civil service laws and regulations.
The Policy’s Purpose and Notable Requirements
The Policy’s stated purpose is to encourage public employees who are victims of, or impacted by, domestic violence to seek assistance from their employer. All employees, including casual, seasonal, or temporary employees are covered by this Policy, as are interns and volunteers.
According to CSC Chair and CEO Deirdré L. Webster Cobb, Esq., “[t]hese new guidelines seek to create an easy, welcoming, and confidential system for all public employees to report domestic violence incidents.” The Policy imposes several requirements on public employers, including, but limited to:
- Designating a Human Resources Officer (“HRO”) to assist employees who are the victims of domestic violence;
- Designating a secondary HRO if the primary HRO is unavailable;
- Providing a standard procedure for HROs to follow when responding to public employees who are victims of, or impacted by, domestic violence;
- Training the HRO and secondary HRO on responding to and assisting employees who are victims of domestic violence in accordance with the Policy to perform duties, such as:
- Providing a safe and confidential location for the employee to discuss his/her request for assistance;
- Assessing if there is an imminent and emergent need to contact law enforcement;
- Providing employees with resource information and a telephone line to contact intervention or support services, such as the Sexual Assault Response Team;
- Notifying employees of the protections of the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (“NJ SAFE Act”); and
- Safeguarding any temporary restraining order, final restraining order, or any other information provided by the employees in separate, confidential personnel files;
- Providing all employees with the name and contact information of the HRO; and
- Developing an action plan to identify, respond to, and correct employee performance issues that are caused by domestic violence.
Confidentiality and Reporting Duties
Under the Policy, employees’ managers or supervisors are required to refer any employee who is experiencing, or who reports, domestic violence to the HRO. The managers and supervisors are also expected to maintain confidentiality with respect to domestic violence incidents involving employees.
The confidentiality mandates of this Policy do not supersede mandatory reporting duties, such as reports to the Department of Children and Families if circumstances suggest a child is also a victim. Similarly, the HRO may make disclosures reasonably necessary to protect the safety of individuals in the workplace. The HRO must inform the employee of the name and title of the person to whom information will be provided, as well as the reason and purpose for the disclosure. To the extent possible, the HRO must provide the employee notice in advance of the disclosure.
Modifying the Policy
Public employers are permitted to modify the Policy to better suit their specific needs, but public employers cannot modify the Policy in a way that would reduce or compromise the Policy’s safeguards and processes. N.J.S.A. 11A:2-6a provides a list of requirements that all modified policies cannot conflict with.
All New Jersey public employers need to conduct training and adopt the CSC’s Policy, or a modified version of the policy developed consistent with the requirements of N.J.S.A. 11A:2-6a. Additionally, all New Jersey public employers must distribute the Policy, or modified version of Policy, to all their employees upon implementation.