New Jersey Expands Earned Sick Leave, Family Leave, and Temporary Disability Benefits in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic

On March 26, 2020, Governor Murphy signed into law S-2304 expanding the scope of the New Jersey Earned Sick Leave Law, the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and the New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law to broaden benefits available to employees who are absent from work due to epidemics such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  These changes, as set forth more fully below, became effective immediately.

New Jersey Earned Sick Leave Law

Under New Jersey’s Earned Sick Leave Law, employees may use earned sick leave for absences related to, among other reasons, the 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 to an epidemic or other public health emergency, or because of 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”.

S-2304 amends the law to now allow employees to use earned sick leave for the following additional reasons:

  • Closure of an employee’s workplace, or the school or place of care of a child of the employee because of a State of Emergency as declared by the Governor; or
  • Declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor, or the issuance by a  health care provider or the  Commissioner of Health or other 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 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 like COVID-19.

These amendments essentially allow an employee to use earned sick leave in accordance with the Governor’s recent executive orders, including the directive that those who have been suspected of exposure to COVID0-19 undergo quarantine to avoid the continued spread of the disease.

New Jersey Family Leave Act 

The New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave in a 24-month period for the birth or adoption of a child or to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

Under S-2304, the definition of “serious health condition” is expanded during a state of emergency declared by the Governor or when indicated to be needed by the Commissioner of Health or other public health authority, to include “an illness caused by an epidemic of communicable disease, a known

or suspected exposure to a communicable disease, or efforts to prevent spread of a communicable disease, which requires in-home care or treatment” of the employee’s family member.  The leave must be due to 1) the issuance by a healthcare provider or the commissioner or other public health authority of a determination that the presence in the community of a family member may jeopardize the health of others; and (2) the recommendation, direction, or order of the provider or authority that the family member be isolated or quarantined because of suspected exposure to the communicable disease.

While employers are generally permitted to deny NJFLA benefits to “key employees,” the amendments limit the employer’s ability to deny FLA leave for the reasons noted above.

Given the shortages of testing available to individuals suspected of having COVID-19, this amendment allows employees to use family leave to care for a family member who may not actually be suffering from a communicable disease, but is suspected of having the disease or is suspected of having been exposed to the disease and is recommended to undergo quarantine or self-isolation.  Notably, this expansion is applicable only during a state of emergency declared by the Governor or as deemed necessary by the Commissioner of Health or other public health authority.

New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law

The New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law (TDB) provides benefits to eligible employees who suffer non-work related illness or injury that prevents them from working.

Like the NJFLA, the definition of “serious health condition” under the New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law is expanded as set forth above to permit  employees absent from work due to qualifying circumstances related to the coronavirus or other epidemics to be eligible for benefits. Finally, the seven-day waiting period for benefits eligibility is eliminated for cases falling into this expanded definition.

Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding the expansion of these benefits or need additional guidance.

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