Get Ready for the New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Act

The New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Act (“NJ PSLA”) was recently passed by the New Jersey legislature and is awaiting signature by Governor Murphy. The NJ PSLA will go into effect 180 days after it is signed. New Jersey employers will want to familiarize themselves with the NJ PSLA as it contains many new requirements and expressly overrides local New Jersey sick leave ordinances.

The NJ PSLA will require New Jersey employers to provide their employees[1] with one hour of earned sick leave per 30 hours worked in a benefit year. In the alternative, employers may frontload employees with the full complement of earned sick leave for a benefit year on the first day of the benefit year. Employers do not need to permit employees to accrue or use more than 40 hours of earned sick leave per benefit year or to carryover more than 40 hours of accrued sick leave from one benefit year to the next. Employers that maintain a paid time off policy that is accrued at a rate equal to or greater than the above will be considered compliant with the above requirements, if employees are allowed to use that time for all purposes of leave allowed by NJ PSLA.

Employees may use their accrued leave for time needed for the employee’s or a family member’s diagnosis, care or treatment of, or recovery from a mental or physical illness, injury or other adverse health condition or for preventative care. “Family member” is broadly defined to include numerous specifically named relationships, and includes all individuals related by blood to the employee or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship. Leave may also be taken to attend school-related conferences, meetings or other events requested by school personnel in connection with the employee’s child, as well as for necessary time resulting from employees or their family members being a victim of domestic or sexual violence. Leave may even be taken for time employees are not able to work due to a closure of the employee’s workplace or child’s school or place of care, where it is closed by a public official due to an epidemic or other public health emergency or if a public health authority has issued a determination that the presence of the employee or a member of the employee’s family in need of care by the employee would jeopardize the health of others.

If an employee’s need to use sick leave is foreseeable, the employer may require up to seven calendar days’ advance notice. Employees must make reasonable efforts to schedule earned sick leave so as to not unduly disrupt their employer’s operations. Employers may prohibit employees from using foreseeable sick leave on certain dates and require reasonable documentation if unforeseeable sick leave is used during those dates. If an employee’s need to use sick leave is unforeseeable, employers may require the employee to give notice as soon as practicable, if the employer has notified the employee of this requirement. If earned sick leave is more than three consecutive days, employers may require employees to provide reasonable documentation that the leave is being taken for a permitted purpose.

Unless employees have accrued earned sick leave prior to the effective date of the NJ PSLA, employees hired prior to the effective date of the NJ PSLA will begin to accrue sick time immediately upon the effective date of the NJ PSLA. Employees hired after the effective date will begin to accrue sick leave immediately upon hire. Employees may use their accrued sick time after 120 days of employment.

The NJ PSLA may not be construed to require or justify reducing employees’ rights and benefits pursuant to any employer policy or collective bargaining agreement that provides more favorable rights and benefits to employees or that provides rights and benefits to employees not covered by the NJ PSLA. Likewise, the NJ PSLA may not be construed to prohibit employers, through a collective bargaining agreement or employer policy, from agreeing to provide more favorable rights and benefits to employees not covered by the NJ PSLA. However, employees or employee representatives may waive the rights or benefits provided under the NJ PSLA during the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement. The NJ PSLA will not apply to employees covered by collective bargaining agreements in effect as of the effective date of the NJ PSLA until the stated expiration of the collective bargaining agreements.

The NJ PSLA specifically prohibits employers from retaliating and discriminating against employees because (1) the employee requests or uses earned sick leave either in accordance with the NJ PSLA or in accordance with the employer’s own earned sick leave policy; (2) files a complaint with the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development alleging violation of the NJ PSLA; or (3) informs someone of his or her rights under the NJ PSLA.

Employers found in violation of the NJ PSLA will be subject to the penalties and remedies provided by the New Jersey State Wage and Hour Law. Moreover, employees may file individual or collective actions against an employer for violations of the NJ PSLA. If the employer fails to make available or pay earned sick leave as required by the NJ PSLA or otherwise violates the NJ PSLA, the employee may recover the paid sick time to which he is entitled, as well as costs and reasonable attorney’s fees, plus any actual damages suffered by the employee as a result of the violation and an equal amount of liquidated damages.

The NJ PSLA includes many other important provisions, such as employee notification, payout and record retention requirements. New Jersey employers should familiarize themselves with the NJ PSLA and be prepared for its implementation in advance of its effective date. For more information on the NJ PSLA, please contact Harry Horwitz or the Stevens & Lee attorney with whom you regularly work.

[1] Employees excluded from the NJ PSLA are those employees performing services in the construction industry under contract pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, per diem health care employees, and public employees who are provided with sick leave with full pay pursuant to any other New Jersey law, rule or regulation.

This News Alert has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as, and does not constitute, legal advice on any specific matter. For more information, please see the disclaimer.