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New Jersey Expands Earned Sick Leave and Family Leave Programs in Response to COVID-19

New Jersey remains in a public health emergency because of the global coronavirus pandemic. “Stay at home” orders appear to have slowed the spread of the virus, but they have also led to widespread economic problems. S2304, a bill expanding earned sick leave (ESL) and family leave benefits in New Jersey, became law on March 25, 2020. The bill addresses the availability of these benefits during a state of emergency or when public health officials or healthcare providers have ordered someone into quarantine or isolation.

Public Health Emergency

The governor first declared a state of emergency on March 9, 2020. He extended the public health emergency on April 7, and again on May 6. A declaration gives the governor authority to direct resources towards dealing with the emergency. This can include ordering businesses to close and ordering individuals to remain at home.

New Jersey’s Earned Sick Leave and Family Leave Laws

The ESL law took effect in November 2018, six months after the governor signed the bill. It provides workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours that they work, at the same rate of pay as if they were at work. Employees may carry up to forty unused hours over from one year to the next.

Under the 2018 law, workers could take ESL for the following purposes:
– Their own medical needs;
– To care for a family member who is seeking medical treatment;
– For reasons related to domestic violence;
– Because public health officials have ordered the employee’s workplace to close;
– To care for a child or children whose school has been ordered closed by public health officials; or
– To attend a school conference with a child as requested or required by a school administrator.

Under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA), which became law in 1989, eligible employees of covered employers can take up to twelve weeks of family leave in a 24-month period for certain purposes, including to care for a family member with a “serious health condition.”

Changes to the Earned Sick Leave and Family Leave Laws

S2304 makes three significant changes to the ESL and family leave laws.

Expanded Grounds for Sick Leave

In addition to closure of a workplace or closure of a child’s school for public health reasons, workers can now use ESL because of workplace or school closures caused by a declared state of emergency. The new law also allows workers to use ESL if they must go into quarantine, or must care for a quarantined family member.

Expanded Definition of “Serious Health Condition”

The new law provides that, when the governor has declared a state of emergency, the term “serious health condition” in the FLA includes “an illness caused by an epidemic of a communicable disease,” or exposure to that disease, along with an order by public health officials or a recommendation by a healthcare provider to remain quarantined.

Limits on Denial of Family Leave by Employers

An employer may not deny an employee’s request for family leave when they must care for a family member who has been ordered or advised to go into quarantine, or whose inpatient care facility has been closed because of a public health emergency.

If you need to speak to an employment lawyer about a family medical leave dispute in New Jersey or New York, the Resnick Law Group is available to discuss your rights and options. Please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

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