In February 2019 New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a bill that expands family leave benefits offered to employees who work in the state. New Jersey is one of the few states that provide employees financial relief and job protections while they are unable to work.
From an administration standpoint, navigating the different programs and figuring out which ones apply to which types of leave can become confusing. After all, there are four different options that employers need to consider: The NJ Family Leave Act, NJ SAFE Act, NJ Family Leave Insurance Program, and NJ Temporary Disability Insurance Program.
So, what exactly are the provisions, what are the changes, and how do they interplay with one another?
New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA)
This act allows NJ employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave during a 24-month period to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, or to care for a parent, child (under 18), spouse, or civil union partner who has a serious health condition. The act applies to employers with at least 50 total employees (working both in and outside NJ) who have been working at least 20 weeks.
Changes: Effective June 30, 2019, the new law brings the minimum-employee threshold down to 30 employees and widens the definition of applicable children to include those being placed into foster care with the employee and those conceived using a gestational carrier agreement. In addition, covered family members will expand to include siblings, grandparents, parents-in-law, blood-related relatives, and those individuals with whom the employee has the equivalent of a family relationship. The employee notice requirement is also reduced from 30 to 15 days in certain circumstances.
New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act
The SAFE Act allows employees to take up to 20 days of unpaid leave for circumstances resulting from domestic or sexual violence, or to care for a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or civil union partner who is a victim. The Act applies to employers with 25 or more employees who have been working at least 20 weeks, and employees become eligible to take leave after working at least 1,000 hours over the preceding 12 months.
Changes: Effective July 1, 2020, the definition of a covered family member expands to include siblings, grandparents, and parents-in-law, as well as blood-related and associated relatives. In addition, employees will be eligible to also apply for Family Leave Insurance or Temporary Disability Insurance (depending on whether the leave is taken for the employee or their family member) to help supplement their income while they are on leave.
New Jersey Family Leave Insurance (FLI)
Currently, employees who must take leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition, can have their income partially supplemented by the state for up to 6 weeks. The leave may be taken either all at once, for intermittent weeks, or for 42 intermittent days, and the maximum weekly benefit amount is set at two-thirds of an employee’s average weekly wage, up to $650.
Changes: Effective July 1, 2020, the number of available weeks for paid leave doubles from 6 to 12, and intermittent leave increases from 42 to 56 days within a 12-month period. The weekly benefit also increases to 85% of an employee’s average weekly salary ($859 max). In addition, employers can no longer require employees to take up to 2 weeks of PTO in lieu of FLI benefits (although employees still have the option), and the 7-day waiting period after approval of benefits is eliminated, allowing employees to receive supplemental income earlier in their leave. The new law also includes anti-retaliation language that prohibits employers from adverse action against employees who request or take approved leaves.
New Jersey Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI)
The Temporary Disability Insurance program currently offers up to 26 weeks of paid leave to employees who must take leave to treat their own non-work-related injury, illness, or other disability, including pregnancy. The benefit provides payments of two-thirds of an employee’s average weekly wage, up to a maximum of $650 each week.
Changes: As with the Family Leave Insurance expansion, effective July 1, 2020, the weekly benefit increases to 85% of an employee’s average weekly salary up to a maximum of $859. The same changes in PTO and the 7-day waiting period also apply.
How Do All These Programs Interplay?
With the introduction of the new law, employees at organizations with 30 or more people who need to take leave to care for or bond with another can do so under both the NJ Family Leave Insurance program (to supplement their income) and the NJ Family Leave Act (to protect their job). Employees who must take time off under the NJ SAFE Act to care for themselves or family members as a result of domestic or sexual violence will also be able to apply for NJ Temporary Disability Insurance or NJ Family Leave Insurance benefits to help supplement their income.
Employees who take leave under the Temporary Disability Insurance program are not eligible for job protection under the Family Leave Act since that only provides leave to care for a family member. However, they may be protected under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if their employer has at least 50 employees.
To ensure companies remain compliant as these changes take effect over the next couple years, it is recommended that management review their leave policies and update them as needed. Partnering with an HR consulting firm such as PROXUS can alleviate much of the burden associated with the compliance and administration of these programs.