Just days before leaving office, and with little fanfare, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a new law requiring all public employers, including all local school districts, to adopt and distribute a policy encouraging staff to report issues of domestic violence to the district human resources officer.
P.L. 2017, Chapter 272, effective Jan. 8, 2018, also requires districts to provide specific information and services to victims of domestic violence under their employ. The law was sponsored by Assembly members Gabriela Mosquera, Arthur Barclay, Patricia Egan Jones, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Pamela Lampitt (chair of the Assembly Education Committee) and Joann Downey. One of the main goals of the law is to establish official, uniform guidelines that make clear that public resources are available to victims of domestic violence and that those human resources officers will keep victim’s information confidential.
For purposes of this law, a human resources officer means “an employee of a public employer with a human resources job title, or its equivalent, who is responsible for orienting, training, counseling, and appraising staff.” It is highly recommended that districts, to the extent possible, assign a back-up person for this designation for days when the primary human resources officer is not in the office or is unavailable. The holiday season is a particularly difficult time for many families and incidents of domestic violence often increase during holidays and specific events such as the Super Bowl.
In New Jersey, a victim of domestic violence means a person protected under the Domestic Violence Act and includes any person who is 18 years of age or older or who is an emancipated minor and who has been subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse, or any other person who is a present household member or was at any time a household member. A victim of domestic violence also includes any person, regardless of age, who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has a child in common, or with whom the victim anticipates having a child in common, if one of the parties is pregnant. Finally, a victim of domestic violence includes any person who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has had a dating relationship regardless of the length of the relationship or the amount of time that has passed since the end of the relationship
A person under the age of 18 who is not emancipated cannot be adjudged the aggressor and cannot be adjudicated an offender of domestic violence, although they can be deemed delinquent under the juvenile laws of the state, for most of the acts noted below from the adult criminal code.
Under the Domestic Violence Act, “domestic violence” means the occurrence of one or more of several acts inflicted upon a person protected under this act by an adult or an emancipated minor. The acts include: homicide; assault; terroristic threats; kidnapping; criminal restraint; false imprisonment; sexual assault; criminal sexual contact; lewdness; criminal mischief; burglary; criminal trespass; harassment; stalking; criminal coercion; robbery; contempt of a domestic violence order that constitutes a crime or disorderly persons offense; any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury to a person protected under the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991” and cyberharassment.
(View the complete text of the statute.)
While no timeline is set out in the law, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) was tasked with developing and disseminating a model policy to be adopted by all public employers. Employers may amend the policy to expand victim rights under the model reporting policy but may not contradict or restrict any portion of the model. The legislation requires the CSC to meet with human resources officers, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, social workers, and other persons trained in counseling, crisis intervention, or in the treatment of domestic violence victims in creating the model policy.
The law requires every school district’s domestic violence reporting policy to contain the following:
- A declaration encouraging employees who are victims of domestic violence to contact their human resources officer and seek assistance.
- A confidential method for employees to report domestic violence incidents to human resources officers.
- A confidentiality policy to which human resources officers receiving reports of domestic violence must adhere, unless a domestic violence incident poses an emergent danger to employees and the involvement of law enforcement is necessary.
- A listing of available state and local resources, support services, treatment options, advocacy and legal service, medical and counseling services domestic violence victims.
- A requirement that an employee’s records pertaining to a domestic violence incident or domestic violence counseling be kept separate from the employee’s other personnel records.
- An explanation of the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act (NJSAFE Act). P.L. 2013, c. 82.
- A requirement for the public employer to develop a plan to identify, respond to, and correct employee performance issues that may be cause by domestic violence.
School districts should be aware that this requirement exists whether or not the district is a civil service jurisdiction. The CSC will distribute this policy in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, and the Office of Local Government Services. Updates to this policy will be distributed via Local Finance Notices when deemed necessary by the CSC.
This law was effective in early January, and districts should prepare for full implementation while awaiting the model policy. While the date of regulations is unknown at the time of publication, NJSBA will provide updates when they become available.
An important aspect of this new policy implementation is the requirement that employees be counseled about their rights under the New Jersey Safe Act, P.L. 2013, c. 82.
By way of brief background, the New Jersey Safe Act, enacted in 2013, provides eligible employees who are the victims of domestic violence or victims of a sexually violent offense, or who have to care for a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner or civil union partner who is the victim of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense, with a 20-day entitlement of unpaid leave, within a 12-month period, to address concerns resulting from such an incident. Eligible employees can use this entitlement to seek medical attention, counseling or psychiatric services, to participate in safety planning including relocation services, to seek legal assistance or remedies, to ensure the health and safety of the employee, and to attend or participate in preparation for criminal or civil court proceedings. The 20 days of unpaid leave may be taken intermittently in single day increments or in one block of time at the employee’s discretion.
In anticipation of the implementation of the new reporting policy requirement, human resources professionals should begin to prepare by compiling resource contact information from local area social service and victim resource agencies with regard to housing services, legal services, medical and counseling services and relocation options so that they are in a format able to offered to an employee quickly.
Finally, and of utmost importance, is the need to protect the confidentiality of an employee in this situation, absent an immediate need for law enforcement intervention. It is imperative that the district create and adhere to a confidential method for employees to report domestic violence incidents to human resources officers and that any records related to such are kept separate and apart from existing personnel and medical files. It is also advisable to maintain these files in a locked or otherwise secured cabinet. Additionally, human resources officers should have available a confidential meeting place that is secure and out of public view so that an employee can feel at ease in this setting. Real-life implications can result in failure to observe confidentiality in these matters. According to co-sponsor Assemblywoman Downey, “sometimes work may be the only place someone in an abusive relationship can go without being under the close surveillance of his or her abuser.”
School districts should consult with their board attorneys with any questions and await further direction — including a model policy — from the Civil Service Commission. NJSBA will provide updates in School Board Notes when a model policy is released.