New Jersey Expands Paid Family Medical Leave
On February 19, 2019, New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation amending New Jersey’s existing Family Leave Act (NJFLA) and Family Leave Insurance law (NJFLI) to expand the amount of available leave and benefits, as well as the circumstances under which an employee may take leave. The expansions will be funded from an increase in employee payroll deductions and employers will not be required to contribute to these enhanced benefits. The text of the amended law can be found here.
Among other things, the amendments:
(1) Expand the Threshold for Employer Coverage.
Under the existing NJFLA, employers in New Jersey who have 50 or more employees must provide 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid family leave in a 24-month period. When counting the number of employees, all of the employer’s employees, whether located in New Jersey or not, are included.
Beginning on June 30, 2019, coverage under the NJFLA will be expanded to employers with 30 or more employees. Under this change, employers who are not currently required to provide leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which applies only to employers with 50 or more employees, will be required to provide leave under New Jersey law.
There will be no change in the NJPFL eligibility requirements, under which an employee is covered if the employee has worked for that employer for one year and at least 1,000 hours.
(2) Double the Amount of Paid Leave.
The NJFLI provides wage replacement benefits to employees on family leave through the state’s temporary disability leave benefits program. Currently, employees may take up to six weeks of paid leave funded by Family Leave Insurance (FLI) or Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) in a 12-month period. Beginning July 1, 2020, employees will be able to take up to 12 consecutive weeks of FLI or TDI during any 12-month period.
In addition, beginning in July 2020, an employee may take up to 56 days of intermittent leave within a 12-month period (up from 42 days).
(3) Increase Amount of Benefit.
Currently, an employee may receive benefits equal to 66% of the employee’s weekly payroll, up to a maximum of $650 a week. Effective July 1, 2020, the weekly benefit will increase to 85% of the employee’s weekly payroll, up to a maximum of $860 a week.
Employees do not receive NJFLI benefits if they are receiving employer paid sick leave, vacation leave or other paid time off (PTO). Prior to the amendment, employers could require employees to first use up to two weeks of PTO before receiving NJFLI benefits. Under the amendment, employees may choose, but cannot be required, to use PTO before receiving NJFLI benefits.
Under the current law, there is a waiting period under which employees do not receive benefits for the first seven days of family leave, unless benefits continue for more than three weeks (in which case the initial seven days are paid retroactively). Under the amendment, there will be no waiting period for leave commencing on or after July 1, 2019.
(4) Broaden the definition of a family member.
Prior to the amendment, employees could take leave to care for a child, parent, spouse or civil union partner. Effective immediately, the term “family member” has been expanded to include siblings, in-laws, grandparents and grandchildren, domestic partners, “any other individual related by blood to the employee, and any other individual that the employee shows to have a close association with the employee which is the equivalent of a family relationship.”
In addition to providing leave for the birth or placement of a child by adoption, under the amendment leave may also be taken for the placement of a child into foster care or the birth of a child to a surrogate (referred to as a child “born pursuant to a valid written agreement between the employee and a gestational carrier”).
(5) Leave for victims of domestic or sexual violence.
The law amends the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act so that an employee who takes leave for medical attention, counseling, or legal assistance or proceedings arising out of domestic violence or sexual violence will also be eligible for wage replacement benefits from the state under the NJFLI law, just like employees who take NJFLA leave.
(6) No Discrimination or Retaliation.
The law already included an anti-retaliation provision. The amended law prohibits the discharge, harassment, or any other conduct interfering with the terms and conditions of employment on the basis that the employee requested or took leave. The employer also may not refuse to restore an employee after a period of leave. The law provides a private right of action to employees under which an employee may obtain remedies such as monetary damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and injunctive relief and reinstatement to his or her former position. A court may also impose fines.
Employers should review their policies and amend them to comply with the new legislation.
Please do not hesitate to contact any of our attorneys if you have any questions regarding these changes or would like assistance reviewing your policies.