by Amy Beth Dambeck

As most New Jersey employers and employees alike are aware, since January 1, 2009, payroll deductions have been taken to fund New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave benefit. Paid leave benefits themselves, however, only become available as of July 1, 2009. With this commencement date approaching, it is important for employees to understand whether or not they may be eligible for Paid Family Leave benefits, the value of the benefits, and what they need to do to obtain them. It is also important for employers to understand their rights and obligations under this relatively new law to ensure compliance with the same.

What is New Jersey Paid Family Leave? New Jersey Paid Family Leave is funded 100% by employees through payroll deductions and benefits are administered through the State’s existing Temporary Disability Benefits Program. It is not really a “leave” program, rather it is a wage replacement law – similar to temporary disability benefits laws. In fact, although commonly referred to as the Paid Family Leave law, it is officially called the Family Temporary Disability Leave law.

It is a true “family leave” program, however, in that paid leave benefits are only available to employees to help care for a qualifying family member – benefits are not available if out of work due to one’s own illness or to otherwise care for one’s self.

Paid Family Leave runs concurrently with unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act “FMLA” and/or New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) leaves and does not reduce or impact leave rights under either FMLA or NJFLA. In addition, Paid Family Leave benefits are also available to employees of smaller employers – who may not be entitled to FMLA or NJFLA leaves. Paid Family Leave, however, is not a protected leave and does not provide any independent right to reinstatement or other job protection.

How much does it pay and for how long do benefits last? Employees are entitled to 2/3 of their average weekly wage, up to a $524 per week maximum. Eligible employees may take up to 6 weeks of Paid Family Leave.

Are you eligible? All employees who have worked 20 calendar weeks in covered New Jersey employment or who have earned at least $7,150.00 (1000 times NJ minimum wage [currently $7.15/hr]) during the 12 months preceding any leave are eligible to receive Paid Leave benefits.

For what reasons can you take Paid Family Leave? Employees can take paid leave to care for a newborn, within 12 months of birth; to care for a newly adopted child, within 12 months of placement; or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. The definitions of qualifying “family members” and “serious health conditions” are similar to those employed by the FMLA and NJFLA. Leave can be taken concurrently or intermittently.

What do you have to do to obtain benefits? Application for benefits will be made to the State. If taking Paid Family Leave to care for a sick family member, you will be required to obtain and submit medical certifications and, in some instances, the State may require that family member to obtain a neutral medical certification. There will generally be a 1-week waiting period before you can receive Paid Family Leave benefits. If benefits continue for 3 weeks, benefits are payable retroactive to the first day of the leave.

Obligations of both Employers and Employees: Employers must comply with various notice and posting requirements and should also consider adopting and implementing policies that govern whether or not employees will be required and/or permitted to use sick, vacation or other fully paid time off accrued under company policy before using Paid Family Leave. Employers must submit specific information to the State, including wage information and information about company paid leave benefits within 9 days of the start of the leave.

Employees need to be aware of various notice requirements that must be given to employers of the intent to take Paid Family Leave and deadlines by which to apply for benefits with the State, typically within 30 days after the leave begins.

Both employees and employers alike should check for specific eligibility requirements and obligations with the New Jersey Department of Labor or their legal counsel to ensure both compliance with the new law and enforcement of their rights pursuant to the New Jersey Paid Leave law.

Amy Beth Dambeck is an Associate in the Employment Group at Stark & Stark, she can be reached at adambeck@stark-stark.com. 609-896-9060.

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