Christie Vetoes Expansion of New Jersey Family Leave & Increased Minimum Wage

On July 21, 2017, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed two bills that would have expanded New Jersey’s pioneering paid Family Leave Act and raised minimum wage for certain transportation center service workers.  Under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), which applies to New Jersey companies with 50 or more employees, workers are eligible to receive up to 12 weeks of continuous leave during a given 24-month period to care for a newly born or adopted child, parent, a child under 18, spouse, or civil union partner who has a serious health condition requiring in-patient care, continuing medical treatment or medical supervision.  The leave is partially paid, and eligible employees can generally receive up to $633 per week.

The Bill (A4927) would have extended the NJFLA’s coverage to employers with 20 or more employees and expanded the definition of “family member” to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law.  Moreover, the Bill would have doubled the maximum number of weeks of family temporary disability leave benefits from 6 weeks to 12 weeks, increased available intermittent leave from 42 days to 84 days, and raised the weekly cap on paid benefits to $932, depending on the claimant’s income.

Governor Christie denounced the Bill’s supporters as disregarding the increased cost to taxpayers and the potentially adverse impact the bill would have on small businesses in New Jersey.

The minimum wage bill (A4870) would have significantly raised New Jersey’s minimum wage for employees at Newark Liberty International Airport, Newark Penn Station, and the Hoboken Terminal, from $10.10 to $17.98 per hour.  Incidentally, Christie vetoed a bill last year that would have raised New Jersey’s minimum wage from its current $8.44 to $15.00 per hour.  The New Jersey Business & Industry Association, considering the vetoes to be a victory to New Jersey employers, stated that the minimum wage bill would have set “a terrible precedent by circumventing the collective bargaining process and imposing backdoor wage and benefit increases by statute.”

For more information on these vetoes and current laws regarding family leave, minimum wage, or other applicable leave laws, please contact John C. Petrella, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Employment Litigation Practice Group, at jpetrella@nullnullgenovaburns.com, or Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at dmastellone@nullnullgenovaburns.com, or 973-533-0777.

New York Issues Regulations Implementing its Trailblazing Paid Family Leave Law

Last year, the New York State Legislature passed the country’s most wide-ranging paid family leave law, providing employees with wage replacement during time away from their job in order to bond with a child, care for a close relative with a serious health condition, or to help relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service, commencing on January 1, 2018.  On February 22, 2017, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the filing of official regulations implementing New York’s Paid Family Leave Law.  The regulations provide important guidance to both employers and insurance carriers.

Covered Employers – Unlike the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies only to businesses with 50 or more employees, the New York paid family leave program is required for all private employers in New York.  Public employers may opt in.

Eligible Employees – Employees become eligible for paid family leave after working full-time for their employer for 26 weeks or part-time for 175 days.

Phase-In Schedule – Unlike the FMLA, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of one’s family member or oneself, New York’s family leave law provides paid leave.  The program starts on January 1, 2018 and will fully phase in over the course of 4 years.  For the first year of the program, employees will be entitled to 8 weeks of family leave and 50% of their average weekly wages.  Starting January 1, 2019, employees will be entitled to 10 weeks and 55% of their average weekly wages.  On January 1, 2020, employees will still only be entitled to 10 weeks, but will be afforded 60% of their average weekly wages.  Finally, starting January 1, 2021, employees will be entitled to 12 weeks and 67% of their average weekly wages.

Qualifying Reasons – Paid family leave will be available to eligible employees to care for a new child (including newly adopted and foster children) or a close relative with a serious health condition, or to relieve family pressures created when a family member is called to active military service.  This leave is not available, however, to care for an employee’s own serious health condition, which is available under the FMLA.

Required Documentation – Employees will be required to present certain documentation to justify requests for family leave.  Documentation may include a certification from a doctor treating an employee’s family member.  New parents will also need to present birth certificates, adoption papers, or foster placement letters.  Employees wishing to address military family needs must provide military duty papers.

Reemployment – Upon return to work, employees will be entitled to resume the same or a comparable job.  The paid family leave law also provides for a continuation of health care benefits while on leave.

Employers’ “To Do” List – There are several steps businesses must take now to ensure compliance with New York’s paid family leave law.  Employers must either purchase a paid family leave insurance policy or self-insure.  The program will be fully funded by employees’ payment of premiums through payroll deductions, which employers can begin taking in July of 2017 (for coverage beginning on January 1, 2018).  In addition, employers and/or carriers must adopt a method for employees to request paid family leave, either by using the official “Request for Paid Family Leave” form (currently form PFL-1) or another method that solicits the same information as that form.  Employers must also inform all employees in writing of their rights and obligations under the new law, and eligibility information must also be included in an Employee Handbook.  Governor Cuomo has also launched a new helpline (844) 337-6303 to answer questions and provide New Yorkers with more information about the new program.

For questions about New York State’s new paid family leave law, how it interacts with the FMLA, and how to develop a compliant paid family leave policy, please contact Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com or 973-533-0777.  Please visit our free Labor & Employment Blog at www.labor-law-blog.com to stay up-to-date on the latest news and legal developments affecting your workforce.