Newark, NJ – March 16, 2023 – On Wednesday, the NJ Paid Leave Outreach Collaborative, organized by members of the NJ Time to Care Coalition and NJ Citizen Action (NJCA), brought together state officials, worker advocates, and LGBTQIA+ organizers to discuss health equity and access to paid leave for the LGBTQIA+ community. Topics included access to NJ paid leave policies and benefits, protections from discrimination and harassment, trans inclusion in the workplace, taking leave for mental health, and more.
“As one of a handful of states with paid sick leave, paid family leave and state temporary disability benefits, New Jersey serves as a national model, and we are committed to ensuring all our workers have equitable access to these gold-standard protections,” said Robert Asaro-Angelo (he/him), NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner. “Caring for chosen family, coping with domestic or sexual violence, and accessing gender-affirming care are just some of the ways our generous paid leave laws support the LGBTQIA+ communities.”
New Jersey has some of the strongest paid leave policies in the nation, including 40 hours or 5 days of earned sick leave, and family and medical leave benefits that provides 85% of a worker’s average weekly wage, up to $1025/week. Today, there is still no federal law that guarantees workers the right to paid leave.
“Being LGBTQIA+ and accessing information regarding resources can be confusing and difficult. We all deserve access to inclusive spaces that recognize us, whether you are queer, trans, intersex, or chosen family,” said Nat Moghe (they/them), NJCA Workplace Justice Organizer. “We all deserve to take time off for our mental health, to bond or care for a loved one, or to physically recover from an illness. Thanks to New Jersey’s inclusive programs and benefits, I have been able to lead a successful life and career as a trans, queer, person of color. It is our stories that liberate not only ourselves but others.”
LGBTQIA+ individuals, especially LGBTQIA+ working people of color, experience disproportionately high barriers in accessing workplace leave policies, such as mistreatment in the workplace, employer misclassification of employees, fear of job loss and retaliation, fear of “outing” their identities at work, and overall lack of policy representation in terms of inclusive family definitions and gender-affirming healthcare. 1099 or other types of gig/contract workers are also less likely to have access to workplace leave.
“Inclusive policy design is especially important in improving health equity because when a policy is designed with only a specific subset of people in mind (heterosexual, cisgender employees, etc.), there emerges disparities in access and resources that are potentially lifesaving,” said Aleyah Lopez (she/her) of Garden State Equality.
“When we create space in our workplaces for folks to show up as their authentic self, we are also creating a culture of belonging,” said Chris Budin (he/him) of Garden State Equality. “The essence of leading with vulnerability, learning with non-judgment, and growing together in compassion, allows diverse perspectives to be heard, valued, and respected. This is where positive culture change happens.”
New Jersey is a leader when it comes to inclusive paid leave. In 1992, the NJ Law Against Discrimination was amended to include sexual orientation, and in 2007 it was amended to include gender identity. In 2019, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a loved one including any chosen family.
“When we think about domestic violence, oftentimes we do not consider the impact on the LGBTQ+ community due to the representation of mostly heteronormative relationships. This omission leaves LGBTQ+ identified folks who have found themselves in abusive relationships feeling even more isolated and alone than survivors of abuse already feel,” said Johanna Durazzi (she/her) of the NJ Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “When we understand that trans identified folks are even more likely to experience abuse as the hands of an intimate partner, we understand that knowledge about resources and rights to LGBTQ+ survivors is imperative for inclusive advocacy and victim survival.”
New Jersey has also expanded the definition of family to mean anyone with whom you have a “close association to the employee which is equivalent to a family relationship”. Since at least 2020, NJ state employee health plans explicitly include coverage for transition-related care.
“Family Values @ Work (FV@W) applauds the New Jersey Paid Leave Outreach Collaborative’s efforts to educate employers, workers, and allies about how paid leave can provide support for the unique health, caregiving, and family planning needs that LGBTQIA workers and their families face,” said Preston Van Vliet (he/him), FV@W State Organizer. “In a nation that underpays, disrespects, and undervalues caregivers, we are stronger as a community when we claim our right to care.”
“As LGBTQ+ people and families across the country are under attack, it is more important than ever for our community to know about the paid leave benefits they do, or should, have access to!” said Jordan Budd (he/him), COLAGE Executive Director.
A recording of the discussion can be viewed here.