Paid sick leave for all employees is no longer just a good idea, it’s now the law of the land in New Jersey. Just as the law’s opponents predicted, the new requirements come with paperwork obligations that may be a record keeping headache. But one expert says paid sick leave will soon become “business as usual” and fade into the background of everyday bookkeeping.
The law, which was signed by Governor Murphy in May and took effect in October, requires employers to provide one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works, up to 40 hours per year. Murphy said 1.2 million workers, many in the food service industry, would now get sick leave where before they faced the choice of working sick or going without pay. It overrides existing municipal sick leave requirements, which had previously been a point of contention. (In 2015, the NJBIA, New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey Food Council, New Jersey Restaurant Association, New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, and National Federation of Independent Businesses all unsuccessfully sued to stop Trenton’s sick leave law.)
Amy M. Vazquez, director of legal content for the Employers Association of New Jersey (EANJ), a lobbying group, notes that employers have a choice about how to comply with the new law. They can either keep track of every worker’s hours and how much sick leave they accrue, doling out the leave in one-hour increments, or they can just award all 40 hours up front at the beginning of the year and save the paperwork.
(If your employer decides to go with the accrual method, try not to get sick early in the year. Working full time, it would take six weeks to earn a single eight-hour sick day. Employers can also choose to begin offering sick leave only after four months of employment.)
As for whether businesses were going with the up-front leave or the gradual accrual, Vazquez called it a “mixed bag.”
“I think many employers, especially for ones with larger part-time workforces, or those with more turnover per year, may be inclined to do the accrual method. Those with more of an established workforce might be more inclined to front-load the time all at the front of the year, recognizing that their employees might have needs … Also front-loading is a little less labor intensive.”
Vazquez says the law is written in such a way that employers who offer flexible “paid time off” models that combine sick and vacation time will be in compliance. Most employers already offer their workers sick leave or PTO, she says.
“Many employers we’ve been dealing with already have sick leave policies in place,” she says. “They realize it’s good business.”
She says some employees have “started from scratch” to comply with the new law while others are simply modifying existing policies.
“A lot of EANJ members are already providing this benefit, so for them the hardship is altering their existing policies to make sure they are in compliance,” she said. “They may not have been offering it to their part-timers or temp employees, so they’re having to roll out the policy for those individuals. I think a lot of employers realize it’s good business. The difficulty is more now you have the government stepping in and you need to fall in line with what the law requires.”
Vazquez says she expects enforcement to be complaint-driven. However, she says, the Department of Labor might take a look at sick leave records if they are already investigating a business for other reasons, especially in “certain high-risk industries where employers may be trying to evade requirements of the law.”
Previous versions of the law limited the requirements to businesses of a certain size, but there is no size limit on the final law — any who count as an “employer” at all must provide sick leave.
There are still some ambiguities remaining in the bill, some of which will be determined by how the Department of Labor decides to enforce it. Vazquez notes that the concept of a “benefit year” is proving tricky. The statute defines it as a period of employment of 12 consecutive months, with most employers tracking it beginning on the date of hire. However, she says, the DOL has indicated that employers should use a single date to establish a benefit year for all employees — a procedure that does not entirely make sense. “It’s a silly administrative thing,” she says.
In addition to actually providing the policies, employers have to post a notice of the new law somewhere in the workplace, adding to what is already a sizable array of legally required notices. They must also distribute a copy of the notice to workers by Thursday, November 29.