New Jersey Expands Benefits for Employees in Response to COVID-19
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey has made several changes related to employee benefits. Unless otherwise noted, the changes took effect on March 25.
Paid Sick Leave
The state amended its paid sick leave law to cover the following situations:
- When the employee’s workplace or their child’s school or place of care is closed because the governor declared a state of emergency;
- When the presence in the community of either the employee or one of their family members whom they need to care for would jeopardize the health of others under either a declaration of a state of emergency by the governor or an issuance by a health care provider, the Commissioner of Health, or another public health authority; and
- When the employee isolates or quarantines or cares for a family member in quarantine as a result of a suspected exposure to a communicable disease and a finding that the presence of the employee or their family member in the community would jeopardize the health of others, under either a state of emergency as declared by the governor or the recommendation, direction, or order of a healthcare provider or authorized public official.
New Jersey Family Leave Act
New Jersey made four changes to the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), which applies to employers with 30 or more employees. The first NJFLA change adds an epidemic-specific category for leave. This new category applies when the governor has declared a state of emergency or when the Commissioner of Health (or other public official) indicates that it is needed. During this time, employees are entitled to take NJFLA leave because of an epidemic of a communicable disease, a known or suspected exposure to the communicable disease, or efforts to prevent the spread of a communicable disease, if any of the following applies:
- The employee needs to care for their child because their school or place of care is closed by order of a public official;
- The employee needs to care for a family member who is subject to a requirement by a public health authority (e.g., mandatory quarantine) because they are determined to either have the communicable disease or had a known or suspected exposure to the communicable disease; or
- The employee needs to care for a family member who has been recommended to self-quarantine by a healthcare provider or public health authority because of a suspected exposure to the communicable disease.
The second change addresses when a certification is sufficient for each type of NJFLA-epidemic leave. For school closure leave (reason #1), the certification must include the date when the closure began and the reason the school or place of care closed. For mandatory quarantine (reason #2), the certification must include the date the public health authority issued their directive and the estimated duration of the restriction. For voluntary quarantine (reason #3), the certification must include the date of the recommendation, the estimated duration of the quarantine, and the factual basis for the recommendation.
The third change allows intermittent leave for NJFLA-epidemic leave if both the following apply:
- The employee provides notice of the need for leave as soon as practicable; and
- The employee makes a reasonable effort to schedule the leave to minimize disrupting business operations and, if possible, provide a schedule of the day or days of the week they will take leave before their leave begins.
The fourth NJFLA change prohibits employers from denying leave to a “key” employee when the employee takes NJFLA leave under the new category.
Leave for COVID Illness
Employers may not terminate an employee who takes time off work based on the recommendation of a medical professional (licensed in New Jersey) because they have or are likely to have COVID-19. Note that if the leave is covered by Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the employer may not ask for a doctor’s note. Therefore, we recommend against requesting a copy of the doctor’s note until the employee has exhausted their EPSL (if applicable).
At the end of the employee’s leave, the employer is required to reinstate the employee to the same position and is prohibited from reducing the employee’s seniority, status, employment benefits, pay, or other terms and conditions of employment. The law applies to leaves that occurred on or after March 20.
Temporary Disability and Family Leave Insurance
New Jersey has also expanded benefits available through temporary disability insurance (TDI) and family leave insurance (FLI). Although the state administers TDI and FLI, employers should be aware that employees are protected from retaliation for seeking or using TDI or FLI.