Law Would Expand Leave Time, Offer Higher Compensation, More Family Member Coverage, Increase Job Protections and Boost Program Participation
(TRENTON) – Aiming to make New Jersey’s Family Leave Program more accessible and affordable for workers, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Thomas Giblin, and Joann Downey was signed into law Tuesday.
The new law (formerly bill A-3975) would expand the length of time off, provide higher compensation for those taking leave, cover more family members, improve job protections and boost awareness for the program.
“Many workers can’t afford to take family leave because of its low wage replacement rates, or choose not to out of fear of being retaliated against if they do. In some cases, they are unaware that this is even an option,” said Quijano (D-Union).“The law will now help working families who need to take time off work to bond and care for a new child, or to care for a family member who is sick or is recovering from a violent ordeal to do so without jeopardizing their financial security.”
In 2008, New Jersey became the second state (after California) to adopt a paid family leave policy. Since then, the Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program has replaced over half a billion dollars in lost wages for hundreds of thousands of state residents who needed time off from work to care for a new child or sick family member. However, participation numbers suggest more New Jerseyans could be taking advantage of the program.
Since its inception, about 31,000 residents have used paid family leave each year, which is about 12 percent of eligible new parents in New Jersey. Participation for new parents has stayed relatively flat, rising to just 13 percent in 2014 from 11 percent in 2010.
“Working families should not have to choose between taking care of loved ones in need and paying their bills,” said Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic). “Parents should not have to choose between staying at home to bond with a new child, and possibly putting their job security at risk. By strengthening New Jersey’s paid family leave program, we can help ensure they don’t have to.”
Key provisions of the legislation include:
· Expanding the family members that program participants can care for to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, parents-in-law, and others related by blood or relationship equivalent to a family relationship.
· Allowing for leave to be taken to care for a family member who has been a victim of an incident of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense.
· Extending benefits to parents of adopted children, foster children, or children conceived using a surrogate or through a gestational carrier agreement.
Increasing Leave Times & Flexibility
· Doubling the maximum number of weeks of family temporary disability leave benefits from six to twelve weeks.
· Providing that family temporary disability leave benefits for bonding with a newborn or an adopted child may be taken on an intermittent basis.
· Increasing intermittent leave from 42 days to 56 days, which can help parents and caretakers stay at work on a part-time basis while still caring for a sick loved one or bonding with a newborn.
Greater Benefits to Allow More Families to Take Advantage of the Program
· Expanding the amount that covered individuals would collect in benefits, allowing for more people to take advantage of the program.
· Increasing the amount of weekly benefits from two-thirds of a claimant's average weekly wage to 85 percent of that wage, up to a maximum of 70 percent of the state average weekly wage.
Job Protections and Remedies
· Strengthening protections for program participants by specifying that an employer may not discharge, harass, threaten, discriminate or retaliate against an employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment on the basis that the employee took or requested leave to which the employee was entitled.
· Providing for various remedies in cases of such retaliation, and applies existing penalties of the Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) law to employers who fail to provide the notifications and disclosures at the time and in the manner required by the TDI and Family Leave Insurance (FDI) laws.
· Job protection for any participant employed by a business with 30 or more
Increasing Program Efficiency, Public Awareness, and Reporting of Program Data
· Requiring the state to implement goals for timely processing and payment of temporary disability and family temporary disability benefits and require the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development to issue annual reports regarding efforts to attain those goals.
· Directing the state to disseminate information about the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees regarding family temporary disability benefits.
· Requiring the collection and timely reporting of data on program usage and characteristics of program participants, which will help policymakers make informed decisions on future changes to the program.
“This new law aims to make the family leave program more accessible and affordable,” said Downey (D-Monmouth).“Most importantly, the goal is to raise public awareness about its availability so more New Jerseyans can take advantage of it.”