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RECENT EXPANSION OF NEW JERSEY FAMILY LEAVE ACT WILL HELP WORKERS TAKE LEAVE TO CARE FOR BABIES AND SICK RELATIVES

New Jersey is a national leader and model for paid family leave legislation. For example, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the New Jersey’s paid family leave program. Ten years ago, New Jersey enacted the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) and became the second state in the country (after California) to offer family leave allowing workers to take off time to care for a newborn or sick relative while collecting a portion of their pay while on leave.

Family leave is becoming more important than ever as the baby boomer generation ages, and increasingly needs care and assistance from family members.  The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060.  See Population Reference Bureau Fact Sheet at https://www.prb.org/aging-unitedstates-fact-sheet/.  For all too many working families, taking time off from work to care for their ill family members is exceedingly stressful, costly and difficult.

Under the present law, New Jersey provides up to six (6) weeks of Family Leave Insurance (“FLI”) cash benefits and is 100% financed by worker payroll deductions.  Employers do not contribute to the program.  The benefits are available to allow for workers to bond with a newborn or adopted child, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition.  Claimants are paid two-third (2/3) of their average weekly wage, up to a maximum weekly benefit.  For workers seeking to bond with a newborn or adopted child, you must provide your employer with thirty (30) days’ notice.  To care for an ill family member, you must give your employer fifteen (15) days’ notice.

Recognizing the importance to working families that family leave provides, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently signed into law an expansion of the program allowing workers to take off more time and collect a larger portion of their pay on leave. Governor Murphy said, “no one should ever be forced to choose between caring for a family and earning a paycheck.”  Primary sponsors of the bill signed into law include Senate President Steve Sweeney; Senators Patrick J. Diegnan and M. Teresa Ruiz; and Assembly members Annette Quijano, Thomas P. Giblin, Joann Downey, and Paul D. Moriarty.

The following important changes were made to the NJFLA:

  1. Job Protection for More Workers. Job-protected leave under the NJFLA was previously limited to those employers with 50 or more employees.  Beginning June 30, 2019, the definition of covered employer would include those with 30 employees as opposed to 50 employees.
  2. Increased Cash Benefits. The amount of leave benefits increased from 2/3 the workers’ average weekly wage to 85% of weekly wages (up to a maximum of 70% of the Statewide average weekly wage). When the law goes into effect July 1, 2020, the maximum benefit will go up to $860 a week (from the current $650 a week).
  3. Doubled the Number of Weeks for Family Leave. The new law increased the leave from 6 weeks to 12 weeks of consecutive leave, (or from 42 to 56 days of intermittent leave) commencing on or after July 1, 2020.
  4. Expanded Definition of Parent and Family member. The definition of parent is expanded to include foster parents and those who become parents by gestational carrier (also known as a gestational surrogate or “surrogate”). An expanded definition of “family member” now includes siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, parents-in-law, domestic partners, and any other individuals shown to have the equivalent of a family relationship.
  5. Victims of Domestic or Sexual Violence. Family leave may now be taken for medical attention, counseling or legal assistance arising out of domestic violence or sexual abuse.

The changes made to the NJFLA more closely align with the modern realities of most working families today who cannot take time away from their jobs, and even if they do, they cannot afford to accept the reduced cash benefits in lieu of their full paychecks.

If you have been terminated or retaliated against because of your use of family leave benefits, call the attorneys at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page for immediate help. At Mashel Law, we are all well experienced in handling discrimination and retaliation cases and will aggressively seek to discover the evidence required to get your claim to a jury. Mashel Law, located in Morganville, New Jersey, is dedicated to protecting the rights of employees.