Legislature Passes Bill Enhancing NJ Paid Family Leave Benefits

The New Jersey Legislature has passed a bill to enhance paid family leave for New Jersey employees. If Governor Phil Murphy executes the bill, New Jersey employees will receive more pay and more time off from work while caring for a newborn or ill family member.  This would mark another significant legislative victory for employees in New Jersey.

Currently, new parents and caregivers can receive up to six (6) weeks of benefits equal to two-thirds of their pay, with a maximum benefit of $633 per week in paid leave benefits. If bill A3975 is passed as it stands, the eligibility period for time off would expand from 6 weeks to 12 weeks, and further would raise the maximum benefit to 85% of wages, with a cap of $859 per week.

 

In 2008, New Jersey became the second state to adopt a paid family leave policy. The new bill further enhances the originally penned paid family leave as it expands the term “family member” to include siblings, grandparent, grandchild, parent-in-law, domestic partner, or any other individual related to the employee by blood and any other individual the employee shows to have a close association with which is the equivalent of a family relationship.   The definition of “child” is also expanded under the proposed law to include a foster child and a child who becomes a child of a parent pursuant to a valid written agreement between the parent and a gestational carrier.

The new law would also apply to employers that have 30 or more employees as of January 1, 2019, whereas the current law only applies to employers with 50 or more employees.

The purpose of the new law is to expressly protect employees against the suffering and hardship generally caused by involuntary unemployment, as it provides benefit payments to replace wage loss caused by involuntary unemployment. The legislature finds this to be particularly true for middle-income families in which all adult family members work. There is a sincere need for replacement income when a working family member must take time away from work to care for family members who are unable to care for themselves.

Overall, the proposed enhancements to New Jersey’s paid family leave laws will make more time and pay available to more New Jersey employees who need to care for family members. If Governor Murphy signs the bill into law, the increased benefits would take effect beginning July 2020. To improve awareness of these benefits to New Jersey employees, the bill earmarks $1.2 million to advertise and promote the paid leave program and its benefits.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) which provide for job protections to eligible employees remain unchanged by the proposed legislation.  Both the FMLA and NJFLA govern the administration of protected family leave for eligible employees who need to take a leave of absence for certain qualifying events, which include taking care of family members who are suffering from serious health conditions.  While there are some differences between the FMLA and NJFLA, both laws provide for up to 12 weeks of protected family leave to eligible employees.  Neither of these laws, however, specifically require that employees pay their employees for any of the time off.

New Jersey is presently one of only five states and Washington, D.C. with paid leave in effect. If the proposed bill is enacted, it will provide some of the most comprehensive leave coverage in terms of time and pay. Our New Jersey disability discrimination lawyers will continue to keep an eye on the status of this important legislation.