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May 04, 2018
Effective October 29, 2018, New Jersey Enacts Statewide Paid Sick Leave

On May 2, 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed comprehensive statewide paid sick leave into law. The statewide law may be a welcome respite to Garden State employers who have been dealing with a convoluted patchwork of 13 different city sick leave ordinances throughout the state since 2014. That’s because, effective October 29, 2018, the state law will preempt these city ordinances and provide a unified sick leave standard across the state.

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Covered Employers and Employees

The Act (NJ Rev. Stat. Sec. 34:11-56a et seq.) applies to all private employers with employees in the state of New Jersey, including temporary help service firms. Public employers already required to provide employees with sick leave pursuant to any other state law or regulation are not covered by the law.

With a few exceptions, the Act covers all employees engaged in service for compensation in the state of New Jersey. Excluded from the Act are construction workers covered by collective bargaining agreements, certain per diem healthcare employees, and public employees who already receive sick leave under other state laws.

Leave Entitlements

Covered employees will be entitled to 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to an annual accrual, use, and carryover maximum of 40 hours. In lieu of the accrual method, employers may also frontload a year’s worth of leave for employees’ use. Employers may impose a 120-day waiting period before new hires use accrued leave.

The New Jersey law has some unique aspects. First, employers may choose the increment in which sick leave is used, provided that the largest increment is the number of hours the employee was scheduled to work during the missed shift. The law also specifically explains how it will apply to temporary help service firms—specifically, earned sick leave will accrue based on an employee’s total time worked on assignment with the temporary help service firm, rather than separately for each client to which the employee is assigned.

The New Jersey law also provides a framework for annual buyback programs for employers who opt to frontload leave.

Reasons for Leave

Following the example set by other state and city sick leave laws, sick leave may be taken for many of the expected purposes—the employee’s own mental or physical health needs; care of a covered family member; and needs related to domestic or sexual violence victim status—as well as some more permissive purposes, including school and work closures related to public health emergencies and attending school-related conferences and events.

Where family members are covered, the interpretation extends well beyond the usual spouse, parent, and child inclusions. Domestic partners, grandparents, and siblings are all included, as well as “any other individual related by blood to the employee or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

Notice and Administration

Employers may require notice of the need for leave—up to 7 calendar days when the need is foreseeable, and as soon as practicable when the need is not foreseeable. Additionally, employees may be required to make a reasonable effort to schedule foreseeable leave in a manner that is not unduly disruptive to the employer’s operation. Employers may also require reasonable documentation of the use of leave for more than 3 consecutive days.

Employers with preexisting leave policies and combined paid time off (PTO) plans (including vacation, personal, and sick days) are not required to modify those policies or provide for additional leave as long as the leave provided under the PTO policy is at least equivalent to the minimum accrual and reasons for use set forth by the Act. Additionally, the Act does not restrict employers from providing more generous leave entitlements and benefits, nor does the Act prohibit employers from adopting leave donation programs.

Further, unless an employer policy or collective bargaining agreement provides otherwise, employees are not entitled to payment of unused earned sick leave upon separation from employment. However, if an employee is reinstated after discharge within 6 months, any unused accrued leave must also be reinstated.

Restrictions

As with many other states’ laws, employers may not require employees who are requesting earned sick leave to search for or find a replacement worker to cover the employee’s time off. Employers are also prohibited from taking retaliatory personnel action or discriminating against an employee because the employee requests or uses earned sick leave.

However, these restrictions do not prevent employers from taking disciplinary action against employees who misuse sick leave for purposes other than those permitted by the law.

Posters and Recordkeeping

Employers will be required to provide notice of employees’ rights under the Act within 30 days of the issuance of a sample notification from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Employers must also maintain records of hours worked and earned sick leave taken for a period of 5 years. Employers that fail to maintain records will be presumed to have failed to comply with the law, and applicable penalties will be assessed.

Finally, upon the Act’s effective date, New Jersey counties and municipalities will be prohibited from adopting any ordinance, resolution, law, rule, or regulation regarding earned sick leave. Additionally, the Act will preempt any existing ordinance, resolution, law, rule, or regulation regarding earned sick leave. Thus, the multitude of city sick leave ordinances adopted throughout New Jersey will have no further effect.

Additional details on the law are now available on the New Jersey Sick Leave topical analysis.

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