Ever since New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill to amend the state’s leave entitlements, Lisa Salcido SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Director of Balance Point’s human resources consulting service (BPHR), has been fielding questions about it.
The bill, which passed early this year, provides longer leave and greater benefits for New Jersey workers. Here, Lisa breaks down how multiple existing programs are affected.
Family Leave Act (FLA)
FLA provides unpaid, job-protected leave to bond with a newborn or adopted child, or to care for a sick family member. FLA does not include leave for the employee’s own medical condition.
“Job-protected leave” requires the employer to reinstate the employee to the same position or to a position equivalent in status, pay and benefits, with few exceptions. Also, group health insurance benefits must be maintained during leave.
Currently, all New Jersey employers with 30 or more employees (nationwide), will be required to provide workers with 12 weeks of job-protected leave. The leave can be 12 consecutive weeks, or intermittent during a 24-month period.
The new law covers child bonding to include foster care and surrogacy, and expands leave to care for more family members including grandchildren, siblings, grandparents or any individual with a close association to the employee.
FLA is separate from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Workers may be eligible for additional leave under FMLA.
Updates as of April 14, 2020
The FLA was expanded to cover new eligible reasons for leave:
In the event of a state of emergency declared by the Governor, or when indicated to be needed by the Commissioner of Health or other public health authority, an epidemic of a communicable disease, a known or suspected exposure to the communicable disease, or efforts to prevent spread of a communicable disease, which:
- requires in-home care or treatment of a child due to the closure of the school or place of care of the child of the employee, by order of a public official due to the epidemic or other public health emergency;
- prompts the issuance by a public health authority of a determination, including by mandatory quarantine, requiring or imposing responsive or prophylactic measures as a result of illness caused by an epidemic of a communicable disease or known or suspected exposure to the communicable disease because the presence in the community of a family member in need of care by the employee, would jeopardize the health of others; or
- results in the recommendation of a health care provider or public health authority, that a family member in need of care by the employee voluntarily undergo self-quarantine as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease because the presence in the community of that family member in need of care by the employee, would jeopardize the health of others.
These new provisions are retroactive to March 25, 2020.
Family Leave Insurance (FLI) and Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI)
FLI and TDI are monetary benefits that currently provide up to 6 weeks of partial wage replacement. FLI is to bond with a child, or care for a family member. TDI is short-term disability for non-work related illness or injury. Expectant mothers are eligible for both.
Beginning July 1, 2020, the programs will double paid leave to 12 consecutive weeks in a 12-month period. Intermittent paid leave will increase from 42 to 56 days in a 12-month period.
Payments will increase from $667 (maximum weekly benefit through June 30,2020), to $881 on July 1, 2020. Employers do not fund the wage replacement benefit, employees pay into the programs through an automatic payroll deduction. To cover the significant increases in these benefits, the taxable wage base has increased to $134,900 for 2020 for workers contributing to these programs, up from $34,400.
Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act
The SAFE Act currently provides 20 days of unpaid leave to address circumstances resulting from domestic or sexual violence. Effective July 1, 2020, SAFE leave will be eligible for paid benefits under TDI for victims, or FLI if a family member is a victim of domestic or sexual abuse.
Under a new anti-retaliation provision, applicable to all the expanded family leave programs, employers may not:
- retaliate or discriminate against workers who request or take leave;
- require workers to use their PTO before FLI/TDI benefits begin;
- refuse to reinstate employees after FLA ends.
The Cost to Employers
Although these paid benefits are not funded directly by employers, expanded eligibility to receive benefits and doubling the duration of leave will have unintended consequences for New Jersey businesses.
Operating costs will increase through additional overtime wages to pay for coverage and small organizations are disproportionately affected by the need to hire replacement staff to cover workers out on job-protected leave.
The new law also comes with new penalties up to $1,000, and in certain cases imprisoned for up to 90 days. Retaliatory action will cost first time violators up to $2,000 and each subsequent violation will cost up to $5,000.
BPHR to the Rescue!
With BPHR, you get an HR expert by your side to help you make sense of laws like New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave to maintain your compliance. To learn more, schedule a consultation.