COVID-19 spurred new legislation in NJ that expanded several state mandated employee access to job leave laws. The Statement accompanying the Bill explains that it is designed to assure that workers impacted by epidemics of communicable diseases have access to leave needed to care for themselves or for members of their families.
EARNED SICK LEAVE NOW COVERS THE PANDEMIC
New Jersey is one of a handful of States that have an earned sick leave law. Employers must provide up to 40 hours of earned sick leave per year. Full- and part-time employees accrue paid time off at a rate of one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked.
Our law now permits workers to use their earned sick leave for these newly added reasons, which cover the current COVID-19 situation:
- Closure of an employee’s workplace, or the school or place of care of a child of the employee because of a State of Emergency as declared by the Governor; or
- Declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor, or if it has been determined that the presence of the employee, or a member of the employee’s family in need of care by the employee, in the community would jeopardize the health of others; or
- During a state of emergency declared by the Governor, the employee is directed to be in isolation or quarantine, or needs to care for a family member in quarantine, as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease like COVID-19.
FAMILY LEAVE ACT EXPANDED
The New Jersey Family Leave Act entitles certain employees to take up to 12 weeks of family leave in a 24-month period without losing their jobs. With some exceptions, employers must provide this type of leave if: the employer has at least 30 employees or is a government entity, regardless of size, the employee has worked for that employer for at least one year, and has worked at least 1,000 hours during the last 12 months, and the leave is being taken to care for or bond with a child within 1 year of the child’s birth or placement for adoption or foster care, or to care for a family member, or someone who is the “equivalent” of family, who has a serious health condition.
The new amendments expand the definition of a “serious health condition” during a state of emergency declared by the Governor, or when deemed necessary by the Commissioner of Health or other public health authority, to cover an illness caused by an epidemic of a communicable disease, a known or suspected exposure to a communicable disease, or efforts to prevent spread of a communicable disease.
To be covered, the serious health condition must require in-home care or treatment of a family member of the employee as a result of:
- Issuance by a healthcare provider or the commissioner or other public health authority of a determination that the presence in the community of a family member may jeopardize the health of others; and
- Recommendation, direction or order that the family member be isolated or quarantined because of suspected exposure to the communicable disease.
Under the NJ FLA, an employer may deny family leave to an employee if the employee is a salaried worker who is among the highest paid 5% of the employer’s employees or the seven highest paid employees of the employer, whichever is greater and the denial is necessary to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury to the employer’s operations. The recent amendment states that this provision does not apply when the family leave is due to a health care provider, the Commissioner of Health or other authorized public official having ordered, directed, or recommended that a family member of the employee in need of care by the employee be isolated or quarantined, or is due to a place of care of a member of the employee’s family being closed because of a state of emergency declared by the Governor or order of the Commissioner of Health or other authorized public official, during an epidemic of a communicable disease, or a known or suspected exposure to a communicable disease.
TEMPORARY DISABILITY BENEFITS LAW ALSO EXPANDED
Temporary Disability Insurance (“TDI”) provides cash benefits to workers who suffer an illness, injury, or other disability that prevents them from working, and wasn’t caused by their job. Most employers in New Jersey are required to have Temporary Disability Insurance for their employees.
The new legislation allows for workers to obtain TDI benefits by expanding that law’s definition of a “serious health condition” for which a worker may obtain the benefits. Now, during a state of emergency declared by the Governor, or, as found to be needed by the Commissioner of Health or other public health authority, a “serious health condition” includes an illness caused by an epidemic of a communicable disease, a known or suspected exposure to a communicable disease, or efforts to prevent spread of a communicable disease. The normal one-week waiting period for disability benefits does not apply to epidemic-related cases.