Bill Expanding Employee Family Leave Insurance and Job Protection Moves to Governor's Desk

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According to an online survey taken by the Employers Association of New Jersey of its members, more than three of four employer respondents – 77 percent – stated that employees have utilized family leave insurance benefits.

This response is in sharp contrast to a recent report issued by the think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective which concluded only 12 percent of New Jersey's eligible new parents are receiving family leave benefits.

New Jersey is one of three states to offer family leave insurance, which is funded through small employee payroll deductions. An employee can receive two-thirds of the wages -- up to $633 a week -- for six weeks.

"The bottom line: $633 a week is not enough to make ends meet in New Jersey," the report states. "The state's paid family leave policy puts many workers below the poverty level for the duration of their leaves, and pushes people who are already struggling deeper into poverty."

“This is obviously an issue with lower paid workers at small businesses,” says John Sarno president of the Employers Association.

“Many workers can’t lose income to bond with a child or care for a family member and many don’t even know about the benefit they pay for, even if they can afford to take time off,“ he says.

A 2016 study by the Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that few workers knew the benefits exist or how to sign-up, even though employers are required to notify employees.

This year, every New Jersey worker will contribute 0.1 percent of their wages, or 50 cents a week up to $33.50.

Sarno says that the association’s survey clearly shows that larger employers make sure employees are notified of the benefit, while small businesses “are either ignorant of the law or just don’t care.”

Nine of ten respondents to the association survey employ 50 or more employees making it more likely that a staff member would be informed about the law and therefore would notify employees.

At fifty employees, employers are also required to inform employees of other benefits, including job protection under other laws, making it far more likely that the insurance benefit is coordinated with the employee, adds Sarno.   

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who sponsored the original program, and state Sen. Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) have introduced a bill offering workers 12 weeks of benefits and increases the weekly benefits to 80 percent up to $932.  The bill has moved successfully through both the Assembly and Senate and now awaits the governor's signature. 

The bill also makes it unlawful to fire or discriminate against employees who take advantage of the insurance benefit and penalizes employers for not providing notice of the benefit to employees.

Employees are also permitted to sue their employer for wrongful discharge.

More importantly, the bill lowers the job protection threshold under the state family leave law to 20 employees and expands the list of family members who can be cared for, such as siblings and others.

“If enacted, New Jersey will have the most progressive leave law in the country.” says Sarno  

The bill is opposed by business groups as unduly burdensome on small business.

But when asked whether they support the expansion, the EANJ members were split nearly 50-50, with 51 percent saying that they opposed the law’s expansion and 49 percent supportive.  

“While every employer is a business, not every business is an employer,” Sarno says.

“Small businesses have little to no formal institutional knowledge about human resource requirements and many believe they are immune from many legal standards because they are off the radar,” he adds.

According to the N.J. Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 96 percent of N.J. firms employ fewer than 50 workers, with the vast majority have ten or fewer.  

Members can view the full survey results here.