On February 19, 2019, Governor Murphy signed legislation amending and significantly expanding NJ’s Family Leave Act (FLA) and Family Leave Insurance law (FLI). New Jersey now has the most progressive leave law in the country, a promise Murphy made during the campaign.
In July of 2017, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill expanding these laws. But Governor Phil Murphy campaigned vigorously on signing the law.
“No one should ever be forced to choose between caring for a family member and earning a paycheck,” said Governor Murphy. “By providing the most expansive paid family leave time and benefits in the nation, we are ensuring that New Jerseyans no longer have to face such a decision and that working families are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
The FLA provides workers with 12-weeks of job protected leave for certain qualifying reasons, including caring for an ill family member and bonding with a newborn/newly adopted child. The FLI, which is funded through employee-only payroll deductions, provides for wage replacement when a worker is out for a covered reason.
Significantly, according to Amy Vazquez of the Employers Association of New Jersey, the bill lowers the job protection threshold under the state family leave law to 30 employees, effective June 30th, and greatly expands the list of family members who can be cared for, including the addition of siblings, grandparents, any other individual related by blood to the employee, and any other individual that the employee shows to have a close association with which is equivalent of a family relationship.
This lower threshold takes the FLA out of alignment with the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which only applies to employers with 50 or more employees.
“A whole new population of employees will be eligible for protected time off of their job,” says Vazquez. “Employers with between 30 and 50 employees will need to be up-to-speed on the law’s requirements, especially considering the laws comprehensive anti-retaliation provisions.”
The amended law prohibits discharge, harassment, or any other interference with the terms and conditions of employment based on an employee requesting or using leave. An employer may not refuse to restore an employee after a leave.
In addition to the expanded job protections, the number of weeks for which benefits are payable under the family leave insurance program will double, from 6 weeks to 12 weeks, effective July 1, 2020. Weekly benefits amounts will also increase from two-thirds to 85% of an employee’s weekly salary to a maximum of approximately $860 per week in 2020.
Funding for the expanded benefits will come from an increased tax on employee wages. Currently, employees are taxed a small portion of salary that changes every year. This year, the tax is approximately .08 percent of salary up to $34,400. Effective January 1, 2020, taxes will be assessed on up to approximately $131,000 of earnings. While both employees and employers pay into the disability insurance fund, only employees pay into the family leave insurance fund.
Another significant change is the removal of the seven-day waiting week before family leave insurance payments are made. Previously, the waiting week would not become payable unless benefits continued for more than three weeks.
Also eliminated is the employer’s right to require employees to use up to two weeks accrued paid time as part of their FLI, and, the state will no longer reduce the benefits paid accordingly. “This provision appears to be effective immediately,” says Vazquez, “however it is likely the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD), the agency which oversees FLI, will need some time to gear up and put these provisions in place.” EANJ has reached out to the DOLWD for confirmation.