In a move to enhance workplace fairness, the New Jersey state General Assembly passed A-5166 on Dec. 21, 2023. Sponsored by Assemblymembers Annette Quijano, D-20; Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D-15; Craig J. Coughlin, D-19; Paul D. Moriarty, D-4; and co-sponsored by Thomas Giblin, D-34, the bill would attempt to expand the state’s Family Leave Act by reducing the employee threshold for businesses required to offer family leave.
If enacted, this change would extend family leave benefits to individuals in small businesses with five or more employees, over a two-year phase in period, allowing them time off to care for a sick relative, newborn child, recently adopted child or a child placed from the foster-care system.
What does New Jersey family leave look like?
In 2009, New Jersey became the second state in the nation to enact a paid family leave law, providing millions of workers with access to paid time off to care for a parent, spouse, civil union partner or a minor child. In 2019, the law was strengthened to offer a higher wage replacement, longer leave durations, and a more expansive and inclusive definition of family.
Currently, New Jersey’s Family Leave Act requires businesses that employ 30 or more people to give employees up to 12 weeks of leave during a 24-month period to care for a sick relative, including parents-in-law, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partners, blood relatives or individuals with an equivalent family relationship. The law also covers leave for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, with guaranteed job return.
What does this extension mean?
This new extension outlined in A-5166 would be phased in, with the employee threshold reduced to 20 employees upon the effective date of the bill, 10 employees one year later and to five employees two years after the effective date. Upon the completion of the phase in, the bill would extend to employers with five or more employees, and the proposed update to the law would further clarify that a covered employee who utilizes family leave insurance benefits to care for a family member has the right to not be retaliated against by their employer, including, but not limited to, by refusing to reinstate the employee after the leave to the position they held when his or her leave commenced or an equivalent position of similar seniority, status, benefits, pay and other terms and conditions of employment.
Currently, an employer with less than 30 employees is exempt from the Family Leave Act reinstatement requirements. If this bill were to become law, it also would extend reinstatement rights to Family Leave Insurance beneficiaries even if their employers employ less than 30 employees, in the same way that the state’s Temporary Disability Benefits Law currently provides for reinstatement protection for temporary disability recipients, irrespective of the number of employees the employer has: “Once fully phased in, the bill would also amend the Family Leave Act to subject employers, regardless of how few employees they have, subject to the law’s requirement to reinstate leave takers, thereby extending that right of reinstatement to employees of employers with less than 30 employees whether or the employees receive Family Leave Insurance benefits.”
Where is the bill now?
As the lame-duck session concluded on Jan. 9, 2024, S-3825 faced a setback in the New Jersey state Senate, and it lacked a companion bill. Republican legislators, voicing concerns on behalf of business groups, highlighted the perceived burden on small businesses.
The bill’s reinstatement requirement for leave takers after utilizing family leave is criticized for its potential cost implications on small businesses if enacted. Consequently, the legislation did not progress in the 220th New Jersey state Legislature.
As the 2024 Legislative Session begins, PIANJ remains committed to monitoring this legislation as it embarks on the legislative session once more.
 Rutgers, 2021, pp. 1–7, Implementation of Paid Family Leave in New Jersey: A Promising Work in Progress.
Theophilus W. Alexander joined PIA Northeast as a government & industry affairs specialist for the Government & Industry Affairs Department in 2023. Prior to joining PIA, Theo had served in both houses of the New York State Legislature. Previously, he worked as a legislative analyst for Hon. New York State Sen. Samra G. Brouk, D-55, and he served at the New York State Assembly, as a policy analyst with New York Assembly Program & Counsel. Theo received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.