Big Changes to NJ Family Leave Programs
In February 2019, New Jersey's governor signed a bill into law that greatly expands the state’s Family Leave programs. The new law amends two regulations: the Family Leave Act and the Family Leave Insurance law. It also includes changes to New Jersey’s Temporary Disability Program. Here’s a quick overview, plus steps employers will need to take soon.
4 Immediate Changes to the NJ Family Leave Act
- Employees can now take time off to care for a child of any age. Previously, the child had to be under 18 or over 18 but incapable of self-care.
- The expanded definitions of covered family members include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and any other individual related by blood to the employee. The definition also includes any individual that the employee shows they have a close association with — equal to a family relationship.
- Expanded reasons for leave include foster care placement and when a family member is a victim of domestic or sexual violence.
- Intermittent and reduced leave is now available for bonding without an employer's approval.
Four Key Changes to Note
- Expanded definition of covered individuals and reasons for leave (already in effect)
- Added protections for employees working for employers with 30 or more employees — previous threshold was 50 (effective June 30, 2019)
- Increased weekly benefit amounts (effective Jan. 1, 2020)
- Expanded length of paid family leave from 6 to 12 weeks (effective July 1, 2020)
12 More Changes to Temporary Disability Benefits and Family Leave Insurance
- Benefits under Family Leave Insurance, known as FLI, will increase from six weeks to 12 weeks for any period of FLI commencing after July 1, 2020.
- The new law expands definitions under FLI, including 'covered family member' (see details above).
- Employees can now use TDB or FLI during a period of otherwise unpaid leave under New Jersey’s SAFE Act — when they or a family member are a victim of domestic or sexual violence.
- The new law increases the wages on which taxes for TDB and FLI are levied, from 28 times the statewide average weekly wage ($33,700) to 107 times the statewide average weekly wage (approximately $131,000), beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
- No increases are funded by employer contributions.
- Weekly benefits for TDB/FLI leave starting on or after July 1, 2020, will increase from about $638 to $860 per week. The rate will be 85% of an individual's average weekly wage, subject to a max of 70% of the statewide average weekly wage.
- Partial TDB benefits will be available.
- Employers can permit, but no longer require, employees to use up to two weeks accrued paid time as part of their FLI. The state will no longer reduce the benefits paid
- The seven-day waiting period for FLI benefits will be eliminated. That means employees will be eligible for benefits starting the first day they’re absent.
- Employees will be able to collect FLI from one employer while continuing to work for a second employer, provided they don’t increase their hours with the second employer.
- FLI benefits will be paid for intermittent baby bonding, without employer approval. However, the TDB program now requires employees to provide the employer with 15 days’ notice of intermittent leave due to a birth, placement in foster care or adoption of a child — except in cases of an emergency or other unplanned situation. Employees must provide 30 days’ notice for a single continuous leave for a birth, placement in foster care or adoption of a child.
- An employer can't retaliate against an employee by refusing to restore the employee following a period of leave, subject to the provisions of the New Jersey Family Leave Act.
Taxable Wage Limits for TBD and FLI
Current: 28 times the statewide average weekly wage ($33,700)
2020: 107 times the statewide average weekly wage (approximately $131,000)
New: Freedom to Adopt Private Plans for TDB
The revised TDB program allows employers to adopt private temporary disability benefit plans instead of the state plan, without obtaining the consent or election of a majority of employees.
One key exception: unionized workforces. If employees are subject to a collective bargaining agreement, a majority must consent to a private plan, by written election, before it becomes effective. However, if the agreement expressly waives the right to a majority election as a condition for a private plan, no such election will be required.
Notice requirements. If an employer implements a private plan, notice “in a form approved by the director” must be conspicuously posted in the workplace and provided individually to covered employees. The notice must be provided:
- When the employer establishes the private plan
- To new hires
- Within three business days after the employer knows, or should know, of the need for disability or family temporary disability benefits
The notice must contain the current rates, eligibility requirements, benefit entitlements, rights of the employee (e.g., appeal rights), contact information for the plan and instructions for filing a claim for benefits.
Next Steps for Employers — Now and in 2020
Remember, several big changes are effective immediately. Employers need to make sure they update their policies to include the expanded definitions and terms applicable to the NJFLA, SAFE and TDB programs. They should also post and distribute revised employee notices when they’re available from state agencies.
Employers will also need to update their payroll systems in time to deduct increased TDB taxes from employees’ wages, starting Jan. 1, 2020.
Another thing that employers may want to consider is whether adopting a private temporary disability benefit plan would be a good fit for their organization. Private plans will no longer require employee consent, except for some unionized workforces.
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