Earned Sick Leave a Reality in New Jersey: Most Employers Unaware

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It seemed like any other day in Trenton, as legislators worked around early spring vacations to consider a series of bills.

Particularly in the state Senate, which typically has a more deliberative pace than the Assembly, several bills that would have ordinarily triggered great interest among business and industry lobbyists, seemed under the radar. 

But in a flurry, lawmakers released several bills that have long been stuck in Trenton, greenlighting everything from subsidies for the state’s nuclear-power industry to allowing “Dreamers” to apply for state financial aid for higher-education costs.

And lawmakers passed a bill requiring residents to have healthcare coverage.  

All of these are on their way to Governor Murphy’s desk for review.

An oh yes, one more bill that the Governor vowed to sign over and over again on the campaign trail - mandatory paid sick leave.

Fought tooth-and-nail by the restaurant and hospitality industries, chambers of commerce, accountants and others during the Christie Administration, it seemed not even an obligatory press release was issued in response to the passage of the paid sick leave bill.

In contrast, as recently as 2014, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) found a previous version of the bill was the most lobbied piece of legislation among hundreds of bills that year.  

Now, with few exceptions, every employer in the state will be required to provide earned sick leave to each employee.

For every 30 hours worked, employees will accrue one hour of earned sick leave and carry over at least 40 accrued hours into the next year.

Among reasons an employee could take a paid sick day are time to attend school-related meetings and to care for ill family members, including grand children and siblings.   

Employers cannot retaliate against employees for taking sick days and file complaints to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.  

“The law is significant and not without administrative burden,” says John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey. “It applies to nearly every employer in the state, even a business with only one employee.”

Some business groups dropped opposition to the bill when it was amended in March to permit existing paid-time-off plans to satisfy some of the requirements and to preempt a dozen or so local ordinances so businesses would have to follow only one set of rules.

And the fact that Governor Murphy signaled his support early and often persuaded Trenton business lobbyists that it would be better to live to fight for another day.

“But the train has left the station” says Sarno. “There is no other day. This is a reality and it’s not going to be easy to comply with.”

For example, the law requires employers to provide notice to employees, track accruals, keep records and to make complex distinctions between disciplining an employee for attendance problems and avoiding wrongful retaliation.  

The bill also requires employers to establish a “benefit year” which cannot be changed unless approved by the commissioner of labor.

Additionally, as part of the state wage and hour statute, the department of labor enforces the rules and employees have the option of filing a lawsuit for violations.

“Now its about learning the details of the law and how it gets administered,” he adds.

Click here to register for EANJ’s Paid Sick Leave seminar near you.