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Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, speaking at a panel discussion on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Legislation stemming from Hurricane Sandy and sponsored by Senators Jim Whelan and Linda R. Greenstein that will help workers to maintain eligibility of certain leave and benefits during a state or federally declared natural disaster was signed into law earlier this week.

“Hurricane Sandy left many New Jerseyans out of work, struggling to make ends meet as their communities and businesses worked to rebuild and reopen. To make matters worse, many workers throughout the state stopped accruing time towards important leave and benefit programs while they were laid off during this time of rebuilding,” said Senator Whelan. “I want to thank the UAW representatives who brought this situation to my attention, so  we can ensure when our state’s workers need a safety net the most that a natural disaster does not prohibit them from gaining access to it.”

The law, S- 2996, provides that if a worker is laid off or furloughed by an employer because of a state of emergency declared after October 22, 2012, they would still accrue time under the state’s “Family Leave Act” (FLA), “New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act” (SAFE Act), “Temporary Disability Benefits Law” (TDI), and family leave insurance (FLI) program. Under the law, if an individual is separated from employment due to a natural disaster, they may still acquire up to 90 days of time towards eligibility requirements for leave under FLA or the SAFE Act or up to 13 weeks towards benefits under the TDI or FLI laws.

A worker is not eligible for leave under the FLA or SAFE Act unless employed at least 1,000 hours the preceding year. Additionally, they are only eligible for TDI or FLI benefits if they have worked a minimum of 20 “base weeks,’ earning at least 20 times the minimum wage or have earned at least 1,000 times the minimum hourly wage in the preceding year. A furlough or a layoff postpones the eligibility of the employee.

“In New Jersey, by putting in time at work, workers are able to build eligibility towards important leave and benefit programs such as paid family leave and disability insurance. But when a natural disaster strikes, leaving workers unable to get on the job, they are in jeopardy of losing their eligibility for the following year,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer.  “This law is about protecting our workers and ensuring that they don’t have to pay the price of storms, such as Sandy, twice over.”

The law takes effect immediately.

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