Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Joann Downey expanding New Jersey’s paid leave program and making it more accessible and affordable to more New Jerseyans was released Monday by the Assembly Budget Committee.
The bill (A-3975) would expand leave times, provide higher compensation to those taking leave, cover more family members, improve job protections and boost awareness of the program.
In 2008, New Jersey became the second state (after California) to adopt a paid family leave policy. While the Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program has been successful in New Jersey, having replaced over half a billion dollars in lost wages for hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans who needed to take time off to be with a new child or sick family member, participation is still sluggish.
On average, about 31,000 New Jerseyans have used paid family leave in each full year of its existence. This means that only an estimated 12 percent of eligible new parents are using New Jersey Family Leave Insurance. Additionally, the usage rate for new parents has remained close to flat since the introduction of paid family leave – rising to just 13 percent in 2014 from 11 percent in 2010.
“The changes proposed by this piece of legislation aim to make the family leave program more accessible and affordable,” said Downey. “Most importantly, the goal is to raise public awareness about its availability so more New Jerseyans can take advantage of it.”
Key provisions of the legislation include:
• Expanding the family members that program participants can care for to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, parents-in-law, and others related by blood or relationship equivalent to a family relationship.
• Allowing for leave to be taken to care for a family member who has been a victim of an incident of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense.
• Extending benefits to parents of adopted children, foster children, or children conceived using a surrogate or through a gestational carrier agreement.
Increasing Leave Times & Flexibility
• Doubling the maximum number of weeks of family temporary disability leave benefits for a period of family temporary disability leave from six to twelve weeks.
• Providing that family temporary disability leave benefits for bonding with a newborn or an adopted child may be taken on an intermittent basis.
• Increasing intermittent leave from 42 days to 84 days, which can help parents and caretakers stay at work on a part-time basis while still caring for a sick loved one or bonding with a newborn.
Greater Benefits That Will Allow More Families to Take Advantage of the Program
• Expanding the amount that covered individuals would collect in benefits, allowing for more people to take advantage of the program.
• Increasing the amount of weekly benefits from two-thirds of a claimant's average weekly wage to 90 percent of that wage, up to a maximum of 100 percent of the state average weekly wage.
Job Protections and Remedies
• Strengthening protections for program participants by specifying that an employer may not discharge, harass, threaten, discriminate or retaliate against an employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment on the basis that the employee took or requested leave to which the employee was entitled.
• Providing for various remedies in cases of such retaliation, and applies existing penalties of the TDI law to employers who fail to provide the notifications and disclosures at the time and in the manner required by the TDI and FLI laws.
• Job protection for any participant employed by a business with 30 or more employees when fully implemented.
Increasing Program Efficiency, Public Awareness, and Reporting of Program Data
• Requiring the state to implement goals for timely processing and payment of temporary disability and family temporary disability benefits and require the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development to issue annual reports regarding efforts to attain those goals.
• Directing the state to disseminate information about the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees regarding family temporary disability benefits.
• Requiring the collection and timely reporting of data on program usage and characteristics of program participants, which will help policymakers make informed decisions on future changes to the program.