New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently signed a number of bills into law relating to the coronavirus pandemic, several of which are aimed at assisting employers and employees to cope with sudden employment challenges and changes.
Earned Sick Leave Act
One of the laws, NJ S2304, amends New Jersey’s Earned Sick Leave (the Act) to allow employees to use earned sick leave where the employee is not able to work because of:
- A closure of the employee’s workplace, or the school or place of care of a child of the employee, by order of a public official due or because of a state of emergency declared by the Governor due to an epidemic or other public health emergency; or
- The declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor, or the issuance by a public health authority of a determination that the presence in the community of the employee, or a member of the employee’s family in need of care by the employee, would jeopardize the health of others; or
- During a state of emergency declared by the Governor, or upon the recommendation, direction, or order of a healthcare provider or the Commissioner of Health or other authorized public official, the employee undergoes isolation or quarantine, or cares for a family member in quarantine, as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease and a finding by the provider or authority that the presence in the community of the employee or family member would jeopardize the health of others.
Because Governor Murphy declared a state of emergency on March 9, 2020 via Executive Order 103, employees are now able to use paid sick leave under one of the enumerated reasons listed above, or any other reason set forth under the New Jersey Earned Sick Leave Act.
Interplay with the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act
Note that leave under New Jersey’s Earned Sick Leave Act will be available to employees in addition to leave that is available to employees under the federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA), if any. The FFCRA does not diminish employees’ rights or benefits under any other federal, state, or local law, or collective bargaining agreement.
In New Jersey, employers of any size are required to provide eligible employees with paid leave for any reason set forth under the law, which now includes those listed above. Comparatively, the FFCRA applies only to employers with less than 500 employees.
Thus, New Jersey employers with more than 500 employees are only required to provide benefits to eligible employees under the New Jersey law.
Employers with less than 500 employees will be required to provide benefits to eligible employees under both laws: under the FFCRA, employers must provide 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave (which must be used during the period from April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 and does not carry over to the next calendar year) and under New Jersey law, employers must provide employees with earned sick leave at the rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked up to 40 hours, with up to 40 accrued but used leave hours eligible for carry over each benefit year (alternatively, employers may front load the leave with the full 40 hours at the beginning of the benefit year).
Additionally, New Jersey requires that employees be paid at the same rate of pay with the same benefits he or she usually earns. Under the FFCRA, the rate of pay to which employees will be entitled will depend on the employee’s reason for taking leave.
New Jersey employers should also be aware of other additional restrictions and applications of local law if any.
New Jersey Family Leave Act, Family Leave Insurance and Temporary Disability Insurance
The aforementioned law also amends the New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA), suspending, during a state of emergency, the provisions that denied paid leave to a company’s highest paid employees.
In addition, the legislation expands the definition of a “serious health condition” under the FLA, New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance (FLI) and Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) during a state of emergency declared by the Governor so that workers can now qualify for benefits if they or a loved one have been exposed to a communicable disease and must self-quarantine.
The amendments also clarify leave that may be taken to “care for family members suffering from an accident or sickness,” as the term “sickness” has been expanded to now include an illness caused by an epidemic of a communicable disease, or suspected exposure to same, or efforts to prevent the spread of same which requires “in-home care or treatment” of an employee or family member.
The law likewise eliminates the waiting period before employees are entitled to receive TD benefits due to a “sickness” as defined above.
Time Off From Work Related to Infectious Disease
Governor Murphy also signed NJ A3848,which bans employers from terminating or penalizing employees who request or take time off based on the recommendation of a medical professional because the employee has or is likely to have an infectious disease “which may infect others at the employee’s workplace.” Additionally, the law requires employers to reinstate employees who take such leave to the same position held “with no reduction in seniority, status, employment benefits, pay or other terms and conditions of employment.”
Grants to Businesses and Nonprofit Organizations
Finally, New Jersey passed NJ A3845, which enables the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to award grants to small- and medium-sized businesses and nonprofit organizations to provide them with working capital and to assist them with meeting payroll requirements.