The Times, Trenton

N.J. Workers Are About To Be Paid More When Caring For A Loved One

The Times of Trenton — February 6, 2019

By Times of Trenton Editorial Board

Caring for a seriously ill loved one while holding down a full-time job is a nightmare too many New Jersey residents experience first-hand.

If Gov. Phil Murphy signs a bill expanding the state's paid family-leave policy, as we hope he will, a great deal of the stress would be lifted.

Last month, both houses of the state Legislature passed the measure, increasing the period for paid leave from six weeks to 12, and also raises the cap on reimbursement of wages while broadening the eligibility to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parent-in-law.

Under current law, the policy covers only children, parents, spouses, domestic partners and civil-union partners.

The new bill is a humane piece of legislation, and in the end it's also a fiscally sound proposition. Employers in the Garden State stand to gain not only a recruiting tool for prospective hires, but also a morale-booster for existing staff.

"Improving New Jersey's paid Family Leave Insurance program is a common-sense policy that ensures workers don't have to make impossible choices between economic security and important family obligations," said Sheila Reynertson, a senior policy advisor for the non-profit New Jersey Policy Perspective.

The bill would double the amount of time available for leave from 6 to 12 weeks and the wage replacement levels would increase to 85 percent of a worker's average weekly wage.

Perhaps the most significant beneficiaries of the policy would be new parents, who now would have the opportunity to bond with an infant during the crucial first few months of life. This increased together-time has been shown to lead to more physically and mentally sound kids, pediatricians say.

In turn, healthier children lead to lower rates of absenteeism among parents down the road - yet another long-term benefit for employers.

We're not ignoring the realities small businesses will have to grapple with if the governor signs the bill, including juggling schedules for workers forced to take up the slack while colleagues are on leave.

But the Society for Human Resources Management suggests that the adjustment might be worth it in the end. It costs up to six to nine months of annual salary to replace a worker, the industry group says, so retention of existing employees becomes an even greater bargain.

If we have any concern about the new policy, it's one voiced by Dena Mottola Jaborska, associate director New Jersey Citizen Action.

Writing in an op-ed column for NJ.com, Jaborska laments that while the bill on the governor's desk expands job protection to an additional 200,000 workers in the state, it leaves another 800,000 unprotected.

The oversight cries out for a fix, we agree. But we join the activist in recognizing the Legislature's labors on behalf of New Jersey's workers, as well as the promise the new policy holds for families who call this state home.

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