A lot more people are eligible for New Jersey’s paid family leave program, and employers need to be prepared for the changes because it’s a good bet more of their employees are going to be taking it.
The law Gov. Phil Murphy signed in February expanded who can take paid family leave and whom they can take it to care for.
In addition to increasing paid family leave from six weeks to 12 for eligible employees, the law also expanded who count as family and made numerous changes to how some of the state’s other leave laws work. Additionally, smaller businesses will be included under the law; the threshold for compliance will drop from 50 employees to 30 employees on June 30.
“I hope you have taken a look at your policies and changed the things that needed to change,” said attorney Susan Hodges of Parker McCay. She was in Mount Laurel Thursday morning explaining the changes to businesses as part of NJBIA’s Hot Topics: Changes in Employment Law program. “If you haven’t yet changed them, even if you’re doing the right things, you still need to change your written policies.”
Based on Hodges’ presentation, here are three changes employers need to be aware of.
- Paid family leave is no longer limited to leave for family members.
Paid family leave provides wage replacement and the New Jersey Family Leave Act provides job protection for employees who take time off to care for a child or family member. For years, that meant an employee’s children, spouse, domestic partner, mother or father.
As of Feb. 2019 the law changed the definition of “child” to include foster children and those conceived by a surrogate, and “parent” to include a foster parent and parent of child conceived by a surrogate. The law also greatly expanded the definition of “family member,” which now also includes anyone related by blood as well as siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, in-laws.
Also included are people who are not related by blood, but who have such a close association that they are the equivalent of a family member. This, presumably, could include the longtime family friend the kids refer to as “uncle” or even co-workers.
“How are you as an employer going to deal with this?” Hodges said. “The challenges are going to be very difficult for employers because the language in this provision is just brutal.”
- You can no longer require employees to use existing paid time off.
When paid family leave was first enacted in 2008, employers were permitted to require employees to use up to two weeks of accrued paid time off, whether it was sick time or vacation, before receiving paid leave benefits. That changed as of February 19, 2019.
On July 1, 2020 an employee will be able to qualify for up to 12 weeks off with paid family leave benefits and still maintain his or her two weeks of paid time off if they have it. Employees can voluntarily choose to use PTO first (it may be more money than leave benefits), but employers can no longer require it.
“They can take this time off for family leave, even if it’s the full 12 weeks, and their two weeks’ vacation time is still there or their accrued sick time is still there,” Hodges said.
- Changes aren’t limited to the paid family leave law.
Some of the provisions of the paid family leave expansion apply to other leave laws as well, including:
- New Jersey’s Family Leave Act (FLA), which since 1990 has provided job-protected leave for employees caring for family members;
- The SAFE Act (Security and Financial Empowerment Act), a 2013 law providing protected leave related to domestic violence.
The law changes the definition of family member for FLA and the SAFE Act to the new one under paid family leave, and it will bring businesses with 30 or more employees under the Family Leave Act beginning June 30 (the current threshold is 50 employees).