New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance Act (commonly referred to as the “paid family leave” law) offers financial support to employees who take time off from work to care for a new baby, a newly adopted child, or an ill relative. Under the current law, eligible employees may receive up to six weeks of paid family leave during a 12-month period. The current weekly benefit amount is two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wages (determined by averaging wages earned in the eight weeks just before the leave is taken), with a maximum of $650 per week. To be eligible for paid family leave benefits, an employee must have worked at least 20 weeks during his or her “base year” (roughly, the past year), earning at least $172 per week. Alternatively, an employee may be eligible for paid family leave if he or she has earned at least $8,600 during the base year.
In February 2019, Governor Murphy signed into law a number of changes to the paid family leave law. These changes are welcomed by New Jersey’s workforce, as they will significantly reduce the financial strain workers face when they have to take leave from work. The following sections summarize key changes to the law.
Increased weekly benefits for a longer period of time
Under the revised law, beginning in July 2020, eligible employees may access up to 12 weeks of paid family leave benefits. That is double the number of weeks currently available to employees. In addition, the amount of weekly benefits (the “weekly benefit rate”) will increase from 66.7% of a worker’s average weekly earnings (calculated by averaging the last eight weeks of work) to 85% of a worker’s average wages, with a cap of approximately $860 per week. That is a significant increase in the weekly benefit rate under the paid family leave law.
Also, under the new law, employees who take family leave “intermittently,” or a little bit at a time, will be eligible to take a total of 56 days of leave in a 12-month period instead of only 42 days, the maximum number of intermittent leave days under the current law.
More inclusive definition of “family member”
The new law also expands the paid family leave law’s definition of “family member.” Prior to February 2019, the law covered only workers who took leave to care for a new child or an ill child, parent, spouse, or civil union partner. Effective February 19, 2019, employees who take leaves of absence from work to care for foster children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, parents-in-law, domestic partners or other blood relatives (in addition to those previously recognized by the law as “family members”), are able to access paid family leave. The new law also recognizes as “family members” people who are not actually relatives but who have “close associations” (similar to “blood” relatives) to the employee. Thus, an employee who takes a leave of absence to care for a close neighbor or friend, for example (someone who is as close to the employee as an actual family member), may now access paid family leave benefits for that leave of absence. By broadening the definition of “family member” to include all of these additional relationships, the new law protects workers to a much greater extent than it previously did.
Job protection available to more workers
Another law pertaining to leaves of absence from work, the New Jersey Family Leave Act, requires certain employers to preserve workers’ jobs for up to 12 weeks in a 24-month period when the worker takes leave to care for a new baby, newly-adopted child, or ailing family member. In order to qualify for this job protection, employees must have worked at least 1,000 hours during the 12 months immediately prior to the leave of absence. Under the current law, only employers with at least 50 employees (employed for at least 20 weeks out of the year) are required to preserve employees’ jobs for up to 12 weeks. The new law modifies the New Jersey Family Leave Act so that employers with at least 30 workers will be required to protect eligible employees’ jobs for up to 12 weeks of leave. This change will take effect on June 30, 2019 and will significantly increase the number of workers whose jobs are protected during leaves of absence to care for a family member.
More reasons for taking paid family leave
In addition to expanding the benefits available to employees and the family members who are covered by the law, the new law recognizes additional justifications for an employee’s leave of absence. Unlike the previous law, the new law recognizes caring for family members who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault as a valid justification for paid family leave.
Increased public awareness of the law
New Jersey’s paid family leave program has been in place since 2009, but studies have shown that many people who are eligible for paid family leave do not access those benefits because they are unaware of the availability of the benefits. The new law sets aside $1.2 million to advertise and promote the paid family leave program.
This information last reviewed: Apr 3, 2019