New Jersey Law Expands State Leave Laws

New Jersey has continued its recent adoption of employee-friendly legislation by enacting an omnibus law that significantly expands an employee’s right to unpaid and paid leave under New Jersey’s existing Family Leave Act (NJFLA), the Security and Financial Empowerment Act (SAFE Act), and the New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Act (TDB).

Summary of the Laws

New Jersey provides a number of protections to employees in the form of unpaid and paid leaves of absence. The NJFLA gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid protected leave in a 24-month period to bond with a “child” or to care for the serious illness, injury or health condition of a “family member.” The TDB provides partial wage replacement benefits to those qualified individuals who: (i) suffer from their own injury or disability or (ii) need to bond with a “child” or care for the serious illness, injury or health condition of a “family member.” The SAFE Act provides unpaid leave for employees who are the victim of domestic violence or assault, or have a family member who is a victim.

Changes Applicable to All Laws

The new law broadly expands the definitions of “child,” “parent,” and “family member” under each of these three leave laws. “Child” now includes foster children or children who become the child of a parent through a valid agreement between the parent and gestational carrier. “Parent” now includes a foster parent or anyone who became the parent of a child through a valid agreement between the parent and gestational carrier. “Family member” now includes siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, children, spouses, domestic partners, civil union partners, parents-in-law, parents, and any other individual related by blood to the employee, and any other individual that the employee shows to have a close association with which is the equivalent of a family relationship.

Changes That Apply to the Laws Individually

A.  NJFLA

Beginning on July 1, 2019, the NJFLA will apply to employers with 30 or more employees. Currently, the NJFLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees (similar to the federal FMLA). This change will bring more small employers into the law’s purview. Additionally, the law now requires employers to provide an eligible employee with intermittent NJFLA for a period not exceeding 12 consecutive months – the previous limit being 24 consecutive weeks. Moreover, under the NJFLA, employees are, as a matter of right, permitted to use intermittent leave upon the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a “child.” Previously, intermittent leave was only permitted with the employer’s approval.

B.  SAFE Act

Under the amended SAFE Act, an employer no longer has the right to require an employee to utilize accrued but unused vacation or personal, medical, or sick leave during unpaid leaves. Furthermore, an eligible employee may now collect temporary family leave insurance during leave taken pursuant to the SAFE Act.

C.  TDB

Starting July 1, 2020, the law: (i) increases the benefit period from 6 weeks to 12 weeks in a 12-month period for family temporary disability leave benefits; (ii) increases the maximum intermittent leave period from 42 days to 56 days for family temporary disability leave benefits; (iii) increases the maximum benefits payable to eligible employees from $650 per week to $860 per week for family temporary disability leave benefits and for the employee’s own illness or disability.

The law also includes a new provision prohibiting employers from discharging, harassing, threatening or otherwise discriminating or retaliating against an employee who requests paid benefits pursuant to the TDB. Other amendments include:

  • The TDB will now require employees to provide the employer 15 days’ notice of intermittent leave due to a birth, placement in foster care, or adoption (unless an emergency or unforeseen circumstances prevent such notice) of a child and 30 days’ notice for a single continuous leave for a birth, placement in foster care, or adoption of a child.
  • With the exception of unionized workforces, the revised TDB allows employers to adopt private temporary disability benefit plans in lieu of the State plan without obtaining the consent or election of a majority of employees.

Takeaways for Employers

New Jersey employers should review all of their policies affected by these laws and be prepared to make necessary changes in order to remain compliant.

If you have questions about the changes to New Jersey’s laws or how they may affect your business, please contact Lisa Scidurlo at lmsc@stevenslee.com, or the Stevens & Lee attorney with whom you regularly work.

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

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