A more expansive version of New Jersey’s family leave and benefits laws, which would impact smaller employers and double the number of weeks an employee can take, is scheduled to go into effect on June 30, 2019.
The previous version of the New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA) applied only to businesses with 50 or more employees, 4.4% of employers in the Garden State, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The law, that requires qualified employers to provide unpaid job protection for covered employees for up to 12 weeks spread out over 24 months, now extends to businesses with 30 or more employers.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed the 94-page bill in February that overhauled the state’s family leave and benefit laws.
In addition to changes to the FLA, the measure amended the New Jersey paid family leave insurance program (FLI), under which qualified New Jersey workers can get paid for leave, regardless of the size of the employer.
Importantly, the changes mean that New Jersey employers who don’t have to comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act will have to comply with the state’s family leave laws and any relevant local laws.
Employers meeting the new 30-employee threshold will be required to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave in a 24-month period to eligible employees starting June 30, 2019. The 30-employee qualification includes all of the businesses’ employees, not just those working in New Jersey.
Requiring smaller businesses to offer protected leave and doubling the length of leave available to employees puts small businesses at a disadvantage, New Jersey Business and Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka wrote in a blog post. She argued that small businesses will be forced to pay more in overtime and hiring replacement workers.
The law broadens the definitions for “child,” “parent” and “family member.” Assembly Bill 3975 redefines such terms to the following ways:
The bill also has an anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination component. It forbids covered employers from harassing, threatening or otherwise discriminating against or retaliating against an employee because the employee took advantage of family leave rights or received paid family leave benefits.
Qualified New Jersey employees have the right to sue under the family leave laws and can ask for a range of remedies including monetary damages, fines, attorneys’ fees and costs, injunctive relief and job reinstatement.
The legislation signed by the governor in February also created several other employee-friendly changes in New Jersey’s paid family leave program. Many of these changes go into effect in July 2020. Among the changes are:
Employees can take up to 12 consecutive weeks of paid family leave during any 12-month period, beginning in July 2020. Currently, employees are only able to take up to 6 weeks of FLI in a 12-month period.
Individuals can receive 85% of their weekly wage, with the maximum possible benefit going up to 70% of the statewide average weekly wage. Using data from this year, the governor’s office says the maximum possible benefit will go up from $650 a week to $860 a week under this law.
Workers will be able to take up to 56 days of intermittent leave within a 12-month period, beginning in July 2020.
With this legislation in place, New Jersey will provide some of the most generous benefits in the country, proponents say. In a press statement, Gov. Murphy described the bill as the “most expansive paid family leave time and benefits in the nation.”
The expansion of the FLI is funded through a small pay deduction in worker paychecks. Previously, the first $34,400 in wages. The bill expanded that to the first $131,000 in wages.
The expansion would increase the claims paid out by an estimated $387 million a year, according to the New Jersey’s Office of Legislative Services. More than 200,000 claims were paid out between 2009 and 2015. Eight in 10 of those were to bond with a child.
New Jersey’s employers have seen several changes in their workplace requirements recently.
In a move similar to the expansion of the family leave laws, New Jersey’s sick leave law went into effect in October 2018. It requires New Jersey employers of all sizes to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year to full-time, part-time, and temporary employees so they can care for themselves or a family member. Generally, a qualified employee accrues up to 40 hours of sick time at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked or the employer can advance its employees earned sick leave at the beginning of the benefit year.
New Jersey was reportedly the 10th state to put such a requirement in place. The state law preempted the 13 existing municipal paid sick leave laws. There currently is no federal paid sick leave law.
In addition, Gov. Murphy signed legislation on Feb. 4 raising the minimum wage in New Jersey to $15 an hour by 2024. According to NorthJersey.com, most of New Jersey’s low-wage workers will see the minimum wage rise to $10 an hour on July 1, 2019 and jump another $1 at the beginning of the year until reaching $15 an hour in 2024. The current minimum rate is $8.85 an hour. However, seasonal workers and employees at businesses with five or fewer employees will see their wages increase on a slower timeline.
The governor’s office has said that the entry-level pay increase will raise wages for over one million New Jersey employees.
While the bill was under consideration, business owners argued the proposal didn’t carve out enough workers and scoffed at its definition of a small business as employing fewer than six people, NJ.com reported.
According to a survey by the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, 66% of respondents said increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour would impact their business and 39% projected the impact as “significant.” To offset those impacts, 32% said they would raise prices, 26% said they would reduce staff, 24% said they would reduce hours and 13% said they would increase automation.
New Jersey is the fourth U.S. state to adopt a $15 an hour minimum wage.
This article is intended only for informational purposes. It is not a substitute for legal consultation. While we attempt to keep the information covered timely and accurate, laws and regulations are subject to change.