Governor Murphy signed legislation yesterday that amends the New Jersey Family Leave Act to provide job protections to employees who need to take leave from work during the COVID-19 epidemic in order to care for a family member because of qualifying reasons relating to the coronavirus. The passing of S2374 is part of a series of new laws enacted to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe impact it is having on New Jersey workers both at home and at their place of work.
In a press release, Governor Murphy said, “New Jerseyans should not have to make a decision between caring for a loved one with COVID-19 and keeping their job. Our state is already home to the nation’s most comprehensive Family Leave Act, and it’s only right that we expand these protections to meet the unprecedented health crisis we are facing.”
The New Jersey Family Leave Act provides eligible employees with up to twelve (12) weeks of job protected leave for certain qualifying reasons relating to family leave. These include bonding with a new born, adopting a child, the placing of a child into foster care with the employee or providing care to a family member who is suffering from serious health condition. The New Jersey Family Leave Act does not permit employees to take leave for their own serious health condition and therefore does not permit employees to take leave for their own heath related COVID-19 reason. Employees who are suffering from COVID-19 could be eligible for leave under other laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, New Jersey Law Against Discrimination or Americans with Disabilities Act.
Through the recent amendments to the New Jersey Family Leave Act, the list of qualifying reasons have been expanded to include family leave in the event of a declared state of emergency caused by an epidemic of a communicable disease. Under the new law, protected family leave now includes in-home care or treatment of a child due to the closure of the school or child care facility, to care for a family member who is under mandatory quarantine imposed by the issuance of a public health authority of a determination of a self-quarantine recommended by a health care provider or public health authority.
An employee requesting family leave for COVID-19-related reasons can be required by his or her employer to provide a certification supporting the epidemic of a communicable disease-related reason requiring the family leave. For family leave being taken to provide care to a child due to the closure of a school or child care facility, an employee can be required to provide a certification proving the date of the closure and reason for the closure. For leave being taken because of a public health authority’s issuance of a determination of mandatory self-quarantine of a family member, the certification must include the date of the issuance of the determination and the probable duration of the determination. For leave being taken because of a recommendation that a family member undergo self-quarantine, the health care provider or public health authority must certify to the date of the recommendation, the probable duration of the condition and the medical or other facts regarding the condition.
A family member is defined under the New Jersey Family Leave Act as being “a child, parent, parent-in-law, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, spouse, domestic partner or one partner in a civil union couple, or any other individual related by blood to the employee, and any other individual that the employee shows to have a close association with the employee which is the equivalent of a family member.” A parent is defined to include a “biological parent, adoptive parent, foster parent, resource family parent, step-parent, parent-in-law or legal guardian, having a ‘parent-child relationship’ with a child as defined by law, or having sole or joint legal or physical custody, care, guardianship, or visitation with a child, or who became the parent of the child pursuant to a valid written agreement between the parent and a gestational carrier.”
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, Assembly Joseph Egan and Assembly Linda Carter said in a joint statement:
Countless New Jersey residents have needed to take time off from work to care for family members due to the health crisis created by the spread of COVID-19, and many more will need to do so in the future. There’s never been a more important time to strengthen our family leave program. In a time of growing uncertainty, every worker deserves to know they won’t lose their job if they use family leave. This law also expands family leave for parents of school aged children who need to take time off due to school closures during the crisis. New Jersey has one of the most robust family leave laws in the nation. Today we make our program stronger to address the challenging times we are in.
The amendments to the New Jersey Family Leave Act will undoubtedly provide relief to many New Jersey workers who have been strained by having decide to go to work or stay home and provide care to a family member or child due his or her school closing. Our New Jersey employment lawyers will continue to monitor further COVID-19 legislation that impacts the rights of New Jersey workers.