New Jersey amended its Family Leave Act (FLA) on April 14, allowing eligible employees to use family leave to care for a child whose school or daycare is closed because of a public health emergency. The April 14 amendment is the second one in a month and clarified changes to the law that were previously adopted on March 25.
The FLA has long allowed employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to bond with a new child or care for a family member with a serious health condition. The FLA was amended on March 25, 2020, to expand the reasons employees can use FLA to include care for a family member who was sick or being quarantined for reasons relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic.
The April 14 amendment added still another reason for using FLA and clarified the March 25 additions to the law. After this most recent amendment, FLA may be used for the following purposes:
The April 14 amendment also added certification requirements for leave taken for these purposes:
Finally, the April 14 amendment clarified that employees may use FLA for the above reasons on an intermittent basis as long as the employees provide advance notice before they use the leave and make a reasonable effort to schedule the leave so as not to unduly disrupt operations. Furthermore, where possible, employers may ask the employees to provide a regular schedule of the day or days they will take the intermittent leave.
New Jersey does not have a paid family leave law, per se. But, the state does have a Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program, which provides some income to employees who are taking a leave covered by the FLA. Currently, the FLI program provides income for up to six weeks. But, on July 1, 2020, that will expand to twelve weeks.
The March 25 and April 14 amendments expanded the scope of the FLI program to align with changes made to the FLA. Individuals may apply to the state for benefits from the FLI program when they must care for family members who are subject to a mandatory quarantine order or advised to self-quarantine under the circumstances set forth in the amendments to the FLA. Notably, the statutory amendment does not extend FLI benefits to employees who must take leave to care for children whose schools or childcare providers are closed due to the public health emergency. However, there has been some guidance from the US Department of Labor (DOL) to suggest that they may approve benefits for this purpose. Employers should stay tuned in the event this is clarified in future guidance from the DOL or through future statutory amendments. Finally, the amendments eliminated the seven-day waiting period that typically applies to FLI when an individual is taking family leave for a reason relating to a pandemic or public health emergency.
Leave taken pursuant to the New Jersey FLA will run concurrently with any leave entitlement pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which was effective April 1, temporarily expanded the scope of the FMLA to include leave taken because a child’s school or childcare provider has closed due to a declared emergency related to COVID-19. While the FFCRA only covers certain smaller employers with less than 500 employees, employees who are covered by both laws will have those leave entitlements run concurrently.
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