On February 19, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law legislation that expands New Jersey’s protections for employees who need unpaid and paid leaves of absence under three statutes: (1) the New Jersey Family Leave Law (“NJFLA”), (2) the Temporary Disability Benefits Law (“NJTDL”), and (3) the Security and Financial Empowerment (“SAFE”) Act.
The NJFLA gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid protected leave in a 24-month period for qualified reasons, including to (1) bond with a “child” or (2) care for the serious illness, injury or health condition of a “family member.” The Act was amended as follows:
- Covered Employers: Effective June 30, 2019, the NJFLA will apply to employers with 30 or more employees. The previous threshold was 50 employees, which was similar to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
- Definitions: The definitions of “family member” and “child” have been expanded. “Family member” now includes parent-in-law, sibling, grandparent and grandchild, any other blood relative, and any other individual with whom the employee can show that he or she has a close association equivalent to a family relationship. Employees may take leave for placement of a child into foster care or when the employee has a new child by virtue of a valid written agreement between the employee and the gestational carrier.
- Intermittent Leave: Employees may use intermittent leave upon the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a “child.” Previously, intermittent leave was permitted only with an employer’s approval.
- Reduced Schedule: The Act permits employees to take leave on a reduced schedule for up to 12 consecutive months. That amendment expands the entitlement significantly, as the previous maximum was 24 weeks.
- Notice Requirement: The notice period for employee intermittent leave requests is reduced from 30 to 15 days.
The NJTDL provides partial wage replacement benefits to qualified individuals who (a) suffer from their own injury or disability (including pregnancy), or (b) need to bond with a “child” or care for the serious illness, injury, or health condition of a “family member.” The NJTDL has been amended as follows:
- Definitions: The definition of “family member” has been expanded to include the same categories of individuals listed under the Family Leave Act.
- Benefits: Effective July 1, 2020, the law increases the benefit period from six weeks to 12 weeks in a 12-month period for FLI. The maximum intermittent leave period is increased from 42 days to 56 days and the benefit amount increases from $650 per week to $860 per week for FLI and for an employee’s own illness or disability.
- PTO and Other Benefits: Employers may no longer require employees to use up to two weeks of existing PTO, vacation, or other employer-paid leave benefits in lieu of temporary leave under the statute. The employee now is allowed to elect whether to use PTO or other similar benefits. The use of PTO does not reduce the employee’s available temporary disability benefits.
- No Retaliation: It is now explicit that retaliation against employees who use the benefits under this statute is prohibited. An employer may not refuse to reinstate an employee after a period of leave. An employee who has been retaliated against can file a lawsuit for injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees.
- Waiting Period: The seven-day waiting period for benefits is eliminated effective July 1, 2019.
The SAFE Act provides unpaid leave for employees who are victims of domestic violence or assault or have a family member who is a victim. Under this Act, the following changes have been made:
- Definition: The definition of “family member” has been expanded in the same manner as explained above.
- Benefits: Individuals eligible for SAFE Act leave may seek wage replacement benefits under the Temporary Disability Benefits Law.
- Employee Election: Employers may no longer require employees to use existing PTO, vacation, or other leave benefits for SAFE Act purposes. Employees can elect whether to use PTO or other benefits while on leave under the SAFE Act.
Since some of these changes are effective immediately, employers in the Garden State should review their current policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the expanded protections outlined above.