On February 19, 2019, Governor Murphy signed into law A3975, which significantly expands New Jersey’s paid family leave insurance program (“PFLL”) and temporary disability benefits law. By way of background, the PFLL has been in place since 2008 and currently provides eligible employees with benefits for up to six (6) weeks of qualifying family leave. A3975 significantly amends and expands the benefits provided under this law.
The law provides for the following:
- As of June 30, 2019, the definition of a covered employer under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) will be expanded to include individuals or entities that employ thirty (30) or more employees (instead of the original threshold of fifty (50) employees) for each working day during each of twenty (20) or more calendar workweeks;
- Effective July 1, 2020, the law doubles the benefit leave period originally provided to eligible employees under the PFLL from six (6) weeks to twelve (12) weeks in a twelve (12) month period;
- Effective on July 1, 2020, the law increases the weekly benefit amount such that employees can now receive 85% of their weekly wage with the maximum possible benefit amount increasing to 70% of New Jersey’s average weekly wage. Based on this year’s data, the average weekly benefit will increase from $650 per week to $860 per week;
- Also effective July 1, 2020, employees are permitted up to fifty-six (56) days of intermittent leave within a twelve (12) month period, which is increased from forty-two (42) days;
- An expanded definition of who is a “family member” within the meaning of the law. A3975 now includes care for siblings, in-laws, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partners, other blood relatives and any individual with whom the employee has a close association, which is the equivalent of a family relationship;
- The provision of paid family leave benefits for employees taking leave under the NJ Safe Act due to domestic or sexual violence. Specifically, employees taking leave under the NJ Safe Act to seek medical attention, counseling or legal assistance for domestic or sexual violence, as well as participate in legal proceedings and safety planning, may elect to receive paid family leave benefits. An employee may also take leave under this provision of the law if he/she requires the leave to care for a covered family member; and
- A broader definition of “family leave” to include care for foster children and children who are born via a gestational carrier.
In terms of allowing employees to return to work at the end of the period for which benefits are collected, it is important to remember that the PFLL is a benefits law and not the same as the NJFLA, which expressly allows eligible employees to take job-protected leave and guarantees an employee reinstatement to the exact position held prior to the leave. However, employees should be aware of the anti-retaliation provision in the PFLL, which provides that employees cannot be retaliated against for taking paid family leave benefits. Before denying reinstatement to an employee who is collecting PFLL, employers should consult with counsel.