Additional COVID-19 Benefits for New Jersey Employees
On April 14, 2020, New Jersey amended its Family Leave, Family Leave Insurance, and Temporary Disability Leave Acts to provide employees with job-protected leave and additional financial benefits for COVID-19 related events. New Jersey Governor Murphy signed Senate Bill 2374 into law expanding the Family Leave Act and augmenting partial wage replacement under Family Leave Insurance and Temporary Disability for emergency situations such as those occurring with COVID-19. The Amendments are retroactive to March 25, 2020.
New Jersey Family Leave Amendment
As a reminder, the Family Leave Act applies to employers with 30 or more employees, regardless of whether all those employees work in the State of New Jersey. Under the Amended Family Leave Act, eligible New Jersey employees may now take job-protected unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks during a 24-month period where:
- A state of emergency is declared by the Governor or Public Health Authority;
- That state of emergency relates to an “epidemic,” or a “known or suspected exposure to a communicable disease,” and
- That state of emergency requires a covered employee to care for a family member because:
- A child’s school or place of care has been closed due to an epidemic or public emergency;
- A family member is subject to a mandatory quarantine order as a result of illness caused by an epidemic or where the family member’s exposure would jeopardize the health of others; or
- A family member is in voluntary self-quarantine as recommended by a health care provider or public authority as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease.
An employer may request a certification issued by a school, care provider, public health authority, public official, or health care provider to verify the need for leave. An employee only needs to provide limited information, such as the date and reason for the school/child care facility closure; the date of public health determination of quarantine or other prophylactic measures; or the date of the recommendation from a health care provider and basic medical facts regarding the underlying condition. Also, an employer may not deny Family Leave to a highly compensated employee (top 5% wage earner) if leave is taken for epidemic/state of emergency reasons. Lastly, the leave may be taken on an intermittent basis.
New Jersey Family Leave Insurance Amendment
Family Leave Insurance is intended as a partial wage replacement, whereas, Family Leave is job-protected unpaid leave for eligible employees of covered employers. As such, any employee, regardless of whether he or she is eligible for Family Leave, may apply for Family Leave Insurance benefits.
S-2374 also expands the definition of “family temporary disability leave” in the Family Leave Insurance Act to now include leave taken to care for a family member relating to communicable outbreaks, such as COVID-19. In a state of emergency declared by the Governor or Health Authority, family temporary disability leave now includes “an epidemic of a communicable disease, a known or suspected exposure to the communicable disease, or efforts to prevent the spread of the communicable disease,” requiring the employee to provide in-home care or treatment of the family member where:
- A healthcare provider or the Commissioner of Health or other public health authority has determined that the presence of the family member in the community may jeopardize the health of others; and
- The recommendation, direction, or order of a health provider or authority requires that the family member be isolated or quarantined as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease.
In essence, Family Leave Insurance will provide wage replacement benefits for up to six weeks (12 weeks starting on July 1, 2020) for the reasons listed above. Furthermore, the typical seven-day waiting period does not apply to COVID-19-related benefits. As a reminder, Family Leave Insurance is funded through payroll deductions and administered by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Temporary Disability and Family Leave Insurance Benefits.
New Jersey Temporary Disability Amendments
S-2374 also amended New Jersey’s Temporary Disability Law. In the event of a state of emergency declared by the Governor or a health authority official, an employee may now apply for disability benefits where the employee has “an illness caused by an epidemic of a communicable disease,” or a “known or suspected exposure” to a communicable disease, or where efforts to prevent the spread of the communicable disease require the in-home care or treatment of an employee. The employee must meet the following criteria:
- A health provider, the Commissioner of Health, or other health official has determined that the presence of the employee in the community may jeopardize the health of others; and
- A health care provider or health authority official has recommended or ordered that the employee be isolated or self-quarantined as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease.
Under these conditions, an employee may be eligible for leave under the Temporary Disability Program and to benefits as a partial wage replacement. The Program is administered by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Temporary Disability and Family Leave Insurance Benefit and funded by a combination of employer and employee payroll deductions.
As a reminder, these amendments are not temporary and as such, employers may want to consider updating policies or handbooks to include these additional eligibility criteria.
Please feel free to reach out to Vanessa M. Kelly or the Clark Hill PLC attorney with whom you work if you have questions relating to these new laws or any other legal question.