NJBIZ

Expansion Of NJ Paid Family, Temporary Disability Leaves Goes Into Effect July 1

The move ramps up benefits for workers and doubles eligibility.

NJBIZ — July 1, 2020

By: Daniel J. Munoz

A highly-anticipated expansion of New Jersey's paid family leave and temporary disability insurance goes into effect this month, ramping up benefits for workers and doubling eligibility.

Starting July 1, workers will be able to claim up to 12 consecutive weeks of paid family leave during a 12-month period - up from the maximum of six weeks. The expansion also allows for 56 intermittent days, not taken consecutively, up from 42 days.

Under the expanded family leave and new temporary disability insurance (TDI) programs, workers can collect 85 percent of their weekly pay to make up for lost wages, capped at $881, and up from two thirds of their weekly pay, capped at $650, for a maximum of $10,572 instead of $3,900.

The family leave expansion also lets workers take time off to care for a new child or a sick loved one.

The law, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy over a year ago, has been widely hailed by progressive activists who say the expansion comes at a time when tens of thousands workers in the state have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and effectively forced to stay home.

And, many activists argue, the prior versions of the program were simply too narrow, and left out lower-income, typically families of color.

"The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear how important paid leave is for workers and we need to ensure that our response addresses worker's needs now," Yarrow William-Cole, the workplace justice director for New Jersey Citizen Action, said at a Wednesday morning press conference.

"There are really so many proven benefits to being able to take paid family leave and it needs to be accessible to all workers so we ensure that the program design and administration don't replicate structural gender and racial inequities that exist in our society," she added.

New Jersey workers contribute 0.16 percent of their paycheck to the family leave program, and both the worker and employer contribute a combined 0.26 percent to the disability insurance program.

New Jersey is one of the few states that offers TDI benefits, which provide short-term disability for people in the state who are put out of work due to an injury, pregnancy, or another type of disability.

In March, Murphy signed a law that expands the definition of a "serious health condition" during a public health emergency to someone who has to take time off work because they were diagnosed with, or exposed to, someone with COVID-19 - or to care for a family member in that same boat - so that those workers can use TDI and FLI paid benefits.

"We know our state has a significant 'sandwich generation', the workforce is taking care of both children and aging parents ... who now suddenly find themselves in the midst of a global health and caregiving emergency," Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo, whose department oversees the program, said on Wednesday.

Asaro-Angelo said that there had not been "large uptick" in people using the family leave benefits since the start of the pandemic, mostly because unemployment benefits "have become more generous."

"People who call about family leave have been told that if they wait until July 1, they're going to have better benefits," he added.

The landmark Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which U.S. President Donald Trump signed in March, requires businesses with between 50 and 500 employees to provide 80 hours, or two weeks of paid family leave to their workers.

And, it provides 12 weeks of protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave program—two weeks unpaid and the other 10 weeks paid, meaning employees are guaranteed their job when they return to work.

New Jersey's family leave program only exempts companies with less than 30 employees from guaranteeing workers employment once they return from leave, while businesses of any size have to provide 40 hours of paid sick leave. It does not matter the size of the employer for a person to qualify for Family Leave Insurance.

A bill in the state Legislature removing that exemption has stalled.

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