One in five U.S. states now require private-sector employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.
On May 2, New Jersey joined nine states and the District of Columbia in making paid sick leave mandatory. The law takes effect Oct. 29, and is expected to provide paid sick leave to 1.2 million New Jersey residents who currently do not have it.
Here are some details of the country’s newest Paid Sick Leave law.
The law allows employees to use paid sick leave to tend to their own personal mental or physical health or that of a family member, to handle domestic or sexual violence matters, to attend school meetings that involve discussing a child’s health condition or disability, or to respond to a workplace, school, or childcare center closure by a public health official due to a public health concern.
The definition of “family member” is broad. It includes any individual “whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”
Who is covered?
Most employees working in the state are covered by the law. This includes employees of temporary service firms. Paid sick leave accrues for these employees on the basis of total time worked with the firm, not for each separate client for whom the employee will perform work.
The law does not cover per diem health care workers and construction workers covered by a union contract. Non-construction workers covered by a CBA at the time the law goes into effect are not covered, but they will be covered once the CBA expires.
An important note: There is no exception for small businesses, and small businesses cannot provide less leave than the amount established by the law.
The law requires businesses to establish a benefit year of 12 consecutive months. During this 12-month period, employers must provide employees with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave each benefit year. Employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
The law expressly prohibits employers from altering the benefit year without providing notice to the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development. Since most employers will look to reduce the administrative burden, the law also provides an option to front-load the 40 hours of paid sick time or utilize a paid time off (PTO) policy. If employers choose the PTO policy, it must provide equal or greater benefits at an equal or greater rate than the benefits provided under the law.
Refusal Rights and Notification Responsibilities
Employers can require employees to provide advance notice of “foreseeable” absences, and the law allows employers to prohibit the use of such absences on certain dates. Documentation can be requested if unforeseeable paid sick leave is used on those restricted dates. Also, if an employee is absent for at least three consecutive days, employers may request documentation to confirm he or she used leave for the purposes defined in the law.
Employers are also allowed to establish the increments in which an employee may use leave. The largest increment may be no longer than the number of hours the employee is scheduled to work during his or her shift.
Durability of Benefits
Paid sick leave benefits survive employee transfers, separations followed by a reinstatement within six months, and acquisitions by successor companies.
The law allows employees to carry over accrued but unused paid sick leave benefits. However, employers are not required to provide more than 40 hours of paid sick leave in a single benefit year. Employers also are not required to pay out an employee’s earned but unused sick leave upon separation from employment.
Employers are required to maintain accurate records that include hours worked and earned sick leave used by all employees. These records must be maintained for five years and be made available for inspection upon request by the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Employers are also required to post a notification in the workplace and provide each employee a notice within 30 days of the Department of Labor’s issuance of any notification and also when a new employee is hired.
The law does not prevent employers, a collective bargaining agreement, or other law or ordinance from setting a higher standard. Also, New Jersey cities, towns, and other political subdivisions can establish paid leave requirements for private employers until the law takes effect on Oct. 29.
Thirteen state localities have paid sick leave ordinances: Bloomfield, East Orange, Elizabeth, Irvington, Jersey City, Montclair, Morristown, New Brunswick, Newark, Passaic, Paterson, Plainfield, and Trenton.
Once the new law is in effect, it will preempt these local laws.