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Weinberg, Greenstein Earned Sick Leave Bill Passes Senate

Would Make NJ 10th State to Require Earned Sick Leave for Workers

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Linda Greenstein to require employers to provide earned sick leave to workers in New Jersey was approved by the Senate today.

If enacted, New Jersey would join nine states, the District of Columbia, and over two dozen towns, cities and counties across the country in working to protect the health of workers and the public.

“Workers who need time off to care for themselves or a family member shouldn’t have to make a false choice between their or their family members’ health and a paycheck, said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Earned sick leave is a basic workers’ right that should be extended to all employees. It will create a healthier and safer work environment for our residents, but also will protect the health of the public. Cities across the country, and in our state, have already moved to provide earned sick leave to employees. It’s time that we provide a statewide law that protects all workers.”

“No one should be forced to choose between going into work sick or staying home. Nor should they lose pay because they needed to stay home to care for someone in their family,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer). “This legislation protects workers and protects families. And earned sick leave ensures that workers can care for themselves when ill which serves the public good, as well, because often these sick workers have frequent contact with the public.”

New Jersey would follow Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Oregon, among others, as states that have passed legislation requiring employers to allow workers to earn paid sick leave.

An estimated 1.2 million New Jerseyans are unable to earn paid sick leave. Paid sick days are especially uncommon in certain jobs requiring frequent contact with the public, which has important public health implications. For example, nationally, less than a quarter (24 percent) of employees in Food Preparation and Serving Related occupations, and fewer than a third (31 percent) of workers in Personal Care and Service occupations have access to sick days with pay, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Workers with annual personal earnings at or below $19,999 are less likely than workers with higher earnings to have paid sick days. Fewer than three out of ten workers (28 percent) in this earnings group are able to take a day off with pay when they are sick, whereas eight in ten workers earning $65,000 or more have access to paid sick days, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported.

The bill, S-2171, sets a statewide earned sick leave policy.  This act would preempt all existing municipal and county earned sick leave laws; currently, there are thirteen towns and cities in New Jersey that have existing earned sick leave laws.  The bill would require each employer to provide earned sick leave to each worker it employs in the state. The employee would accrue one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Under the bill, the employer would not be required to permit the employee to accrue, use, or carry forward from one benefit year to the next, more than 40 hours of earned sick leave per year.

The employer is required to pay the employee for earned sick leave at the same rate with the same benefits as the employee normally earns, except that the pay rate may not be less than the state minimum wage.  The bill prohibits retaliatory personnel actions against an employee for the use or requested use of earned sick leave or for filing of a complaint for an employer violation.

An employer can choose certain dates in which an employee is not allowed to schedule a sick day.  If an employee does take an unscheduled sick day, the employer is allowed to ask for “reasonable documentation.”  The documentation would depend on the reason for the absence, and would include a signature by a health care professional who is treating the employee or family member of the employee.

Earned sick leave may be used for:

  • Time needed for diagnosis, care, or treatment of, or recovery from, an employee’s mental or physical illness, injury or other adverse health condition, or for preventive medical care for the employee;
  • Time needed for the employee to care for a family member during diagnosis, care, or treatment of, or recovery from, the family member’s mental or physical illness, injury or other adverse health condition, or preventive medical care for the family member;
  • Absence needed due to circumstances resulting from the employee or a family member being a victim of domestic or sexual violence, if the leave is to obtain medical attention, counseling, relocation, legal or other services; or
  • Time during which the employee is not able to work because of a closure of the employee’s workplace, or the school or place of care of a child of the employee, by order of a public official due to an epidemic or other public health emergency, or because of the issuance by a public health authority of a determination that the presence in the community of the employee, or a member of the employee’s family in need of care by the employee, would jeopardize the health of others.
  • Time to attend school-related conferences, meetings, or events, or to attend other meetings regarding care for the employee’s child.

The bill exempts, from the definition of “employee,” construction employees that are under contract pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement.  It also exempts per-diem health care employees, as well as public employees who are covered by state earned sick leave laws that provide the employees with more earned sick leave than they would receive under this legislation.

“We know that many employers offer paid sick time to ensure their employees are healthy and productive, but too many people are in jobs where sick days are not available,” said Senator Weinberg. “These workers are in an incredibly vulnerable situation. If they or a loved one gets sick, they have to decide whether to take time off, or to pay the rent or mortgage, the electric bill or to buy groceries. This will give workers the protections they deserve.”

The bill was approved by the full Senate by a vote of 24-11. It moves to the Governor for consideration.