New Jersey is one of only three states to offer family leave insurance to workers, which is funded through small employee-only payroll deductions, for six weeks per year to care for a new child or sick relative.
In July of last year, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill expanding the law.
But the next governor, Phil Murphy, who will take office on January 16th campaigned vigorously on signing the law.
Just a few days before Christie’s veto, Murphy posted on Facebook that “Expanding paid family leave would ensure families will be able to care for a loved one without having to worry. It is the compassionate and fair thing to do for working families...I urge the governor to sign this bill and to give countless New Jersey families the peace of mind they deserve.”
Actually, Christie “conditionally vetoed” the bill excising completely 17 of its 23 pages, leaving only its title page, some definitions and minor provisions that would set goals for the timely payment of claims and better promote the program.
He also left intact an annual report on paid leave and whether the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development had met the bill’s goals, but eliminated from that report any discussion of why goals were not met or a plan to pay claims more quickly.
What was deleted would have offered workers 12 weeks of benefits and increased the weekly benefits to 80 percent up to $932 from $633. The bill had moved successfully through both the Assembly and Senate.
The bill also would have made it unlawful to fire or discriminate against employees who took advantage of the insurance benefit and penalized employers for not providing notice of the benefit to employees.
Employees were also permitted to sue their employer for wrongful discharge.
More importantly, according to John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, the bill lowered 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.
Current job protections apply to workers only if they are employed at a firm with 50 or more employees.
“I think that the same or similar bill gets signed by the new governor at some point” says Sarno.
Should that happen, New Jersey will have the most progressive leave law in the country, a promise Murphy made during the campaign.
Workers will also have a powerful weapon against employers should they be penalized for taking a leave but that will only apply to firms with more than 20 employees if the same or similar bill is signed, says Sarno.
“Every worker will enjoy the expanded monetary benefit but not many more will have the job protection” says Sarno.
The U.S. Census for 2016 reports that 95 percent of establishments in the state are either sole proprietorships or employ fewer than 20 workers.