As we previously posted here and here, the New Jersey Assembly introduced a bill last year that would require employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees. Under the proposed bill, employers with less than ten employees would be required to permit employees to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked and up to 40 hours in total each year. Employers with ten or more employees would also be required to permit employees to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked and up to 72 hours in total each year. Employers would be prohibited from taking any retaliatory actions against an employee who uses sick leave or complains about an employer engaging in misconduct with respect to the leave entitlement. The Assembly took no action on the bill after it advanced out of the Assembly Budget Committee last December, but the New Jersey Senate has now advanced a similar version of the bill.
The Senate had introduced an identical version of the Assembly bill in January of 2014. On Monday, June 22, 2015, the Senate Labor Committee took the first action on the bill, advancing it by a 3-2 vote and making some important amendments. As originally introduced, the bill permitted employees to use paid leave for their own medical care, as well as for medical care for a family member. Family member was already defined expansively to include children, grandchildren, siblings, spouses, domestic or civil union partners, parents, or grandparents, as well as a spouse or domestic or civil union partner of the employee’s parents or grandparents and siblings of the employee’s spouse or domestic or civil union partner. Under the Senate Labor Committee’s amendments, the definition of “family member” was expanded to allow an employee who does not have a spouse, domestic partner, or civil union partner to designate one additional person to be treated as a “family member” under the statute. Presumably this is intended to extend the protections of the statute to a girlfriend, boyfriend, or other close friend. The employee would then be allowed to use paid sick leave to care for this designated person. The amendments also provide that an employee would begin to accrue paid sick leave upon the effective date of the employee’s hiring, but employees would not be allowed to use the earned sick leave until the 90th day after hire. If the employee is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, however, no provisions of the bill would apply until the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. Another important amendment clarifies that municipal ordinances adopted prior to the effective date of enactment are not preempted, so long as those ordinances provide rights or benefits to employees that “are more favorable to employees” than those required by the state-wide bill. So far, nine municipalities have enacted such ordinances, including Bloomfield, Jersey City, Newark, Passaic, East Orange, Paterson, Irvington, Montclair and Trenton. If adopted, this provision will require employers with operations throughout the state to adapt to a patchwork of paid sick leave mandates. Among the Senate Labor Committee’s other amendments are technical revisions to the definition of “benefit year” under the bill, and revisions that clarify that an employee transferred to another division or location is entitled to all accrued sick leave, as is any employee separated from employment but reinstated after six months
Summer Associate Luke Pontier contributed to this article.