Would Make NJ 5th State to Require Earned Sick Leave for Workers
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senate President Steve Sweeney to require employers to provide earned sick leave to workers in New Jersey was approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. If enacted, New Jersey would join four states and nearly two dozen towns and cities 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 the unfair choice between their or their family members’ health and a paycheck. Earned sick leave is a basic workers’ right that should be provided to all employees. It will create a healthier and safer work environment for our residents, but also will protect the health of the public,” said Senator Weinberg, prime sponsor of the legislation. “Towns and cities across the country and in our state have already moved to provide earned sick leave to employees. It’s time that we established a statewide law that protects all workers.”
President Obama has advocated for states and cities to pass paid sick leave laws to allow millions of working Americans the ability to take off when they or a family member is ill. In September of 2015, the president signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to offer their employees up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.
New Jersey would follow Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Oregon as states to pass legislation requiring employers to allow workers to earn paid sick leave. An estimated 1.2 million New Jerseyans are unable to earn 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.
“Working people should be treated with fairness and respect and that includes earned sick leave,” said Senator Sweeney. “Employees shouldn’t be forced to choose between going to work when they are sick or losing a day’s pay. This is a right that should be extended to employees throughout the state with a consistent policy that protects their rights.”
The bill (S799) would set a statewide earned sick leave policy; however, it allows earned sick leave policies of municipalities implemented before the bill’s effective date to remain in place if they are more favorable to employees than the policy created under the legislation. The bill would require each employer to provide earned sick leave to each employee 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 at any one time, or carry forward from one benefit year to the next, more than 40 hours of earned sick leave if the employer has less than 10 employees in the state, or more than 72 hours of earned sick leave if the employer has 10 or more employees in the state.
The employer would be 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.
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.
The bill would prohibit 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. It would also exempt, from the definition of “employee,” construction employees that are under contract pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement.
The committee approved the bill by a vote of 7-4. It next goes to the Senate for a vote.