On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, New Jersey Governor Murphy signed S2304, which amends the New Jersey Earned Sick Leave Law, the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and the New Jersey Temporary Disability Law. The changes are aimed at making job-protected leave and paid benefits available to more employees amid the current COVID-19 epidemic.

By way of background, in certain circumstances: the New Jersey Earned Sick Leave law requires employers to provide paid sick leave benefits; the New Jersey Family Leave Act requires certain employers to provide job-protected leaves of absence to eligible employees, including to care for a family member with a serious medical condition; and the Temporary Disability Law provides paid benefits to employees, including for their own non-work-related disabling condition or to care for a family member.

Earned sick leave law changes

Employees may now use their paid sick leave in expanded circumstances, including: (1) the closure of a school or workplace due to a state of emergency; (2) if the presence of the employee or their family member would jeopardize the health of others; or (3) if the employee must be isolated or quarantined or care for a family member in quarantine because of exposure or suspected exposure to a communicable disease.

Family Leave Act

During a state of emergency or when indicated as needed by a public health authority, the definition of “serious health condition” now includes an illness caused by an epidemic of a communicable disease; an exposure to a communicable disease; or efforts to prevent the spread of a communicable disease, which requires in-home care or treatment of a family member due to (i) determination that the individual’s presence in the community may jeopardize the health of others, and (ii) an isolation or quarantine recommendation or order from a health official or provider. In other words, leave is available to care for someone who must be isolated or quarantined due to an epidemic, such as COVID-19.

Importantly, the provisions allowing an employer to deny family leave in certain circumstances (to key employees, or where doing so is necessary to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury), do not apply when the need for leave is due to the need for isolation or quarantine during an epidemic.

Temporary Disability Law

The Temporary Disability Law covers disability benefits (for an individual’s own condition) and family disability benefits (for care of a family member or to bond with a child).

The new law makes the same amendments to the definition of “serious health condition,” expanding it to cover illness, isolation, and quarantine due to an epidemic.

The law also clarifies that for family temporary disability leave, paid benefits are available for the care of family members suffering from “accident or sickness” and expands the definition of “sickness” during a state of emergency to include an illness caused by an epidemic, or a need to isolate or quarantine, to prevent the spread of the communicable disease. Accordingly, paid family disability benefits are available during an epidemic for an employee who is caring for a family member who must be in quarantine or isolation.

The law also eliminates the seven-day waiting period and makes benefits payable as of the first day of the disability for any benefits for illnesses, quarantine, or isolation related to a communicable disease during a state of emergency.

Reed Smith’s Labor and Employment attorneys are closely monitoring the rapid legal changes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. If you have any questions about these laws, or any other labor and employment issues, our team is available to assist.