Law will now expand earned sick leave in New Jersey

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

On Monday, a new New Jersey labor law will do what advocates have longed hoped for.

“It is a big step forward in closing the gap between those who have access to paid time off and those who don’t,” said Debra Lancaster, executive producer for Rutgers Center for Women and Work.

Lancaster says the new law will give earned sick leave to more than a million more workers in New Jersey.

“If we don’t take care of ourselves, and we don’t have the time to take care of our families, we all suffer. So our communities suffer and our workplaces suffer. Domestic violence, for example, the costs of that are in the billions of dollars a year annually,” she said.

Starting Monday, employees will earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours a year. They can start using them 120 days into the new job. It covers leave for mental or physical illness, injury, preventive care, a broad list of family member care and public health emergencies.

The law allows employees to take leave for issues related to sexual assault and domestic violence. Folks at the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center say it’s a smart move.

“It is imperative, especially for victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, because typically these are crimes that are done in shame and in secrecy, and more often than not, they are underreported. But as a result, victims and survivors are usually prevented from going to work, either due to their injuries, either due to a lack of transportation, or shared parenting, and they’re usually not informing their employers so more often than not the employer might think that the individual was slacking off,” said Asia Smith, a domestic violence specialist at the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center.

“I would say most of our members understand that that’s just good business because when your employees come to work, they’re not leaving their personal problems at the door, so sometimes you might need time away to address those types of issues. Many of our members are already providing that time,” said Amy Vasquez, director of legal content for the Employers Association of New Jersey.

The Employers Association of New Jersey says some of its more than 3,500 members recognize the value and need for paid leave.

“Some employers may choose to advance their employees the full 40 hours on the first day of the benefit year,” Vasquez said. “A lot of employers will actually opt for that method. It’s easier, not as much record keeping and having to do all of that accrual math.”

Lancaster says New Jersey now becomes one of the leaders in the nation in providing earned sick leave.

“I do think that New Jersey can be considered a leader. We are one of about 12 states now that have similar legislation. So, I would put as one of the front-runners,” she said.

Workers can carry 40 hours of unused sick leave over to the next year, but the law only requires employers to let employees take 40 hours a year. Employers can require documentation but may not require a health care provider to specify medical reasons. The law prohibits retaliation and gives workers the right to file complaints.