The global pandemic has impacted our lives in ways big and small. Some have been directly touched by the virus, losing loved ones or personally stricken by the illness and working to recover physically. Others are dealing with the disease’s general disruption, which has kept school buildings closed and forced students to learn from home. Parents are struggling to balance their jobs with caring for their kids, and with school being conducted virtually that’s more easily said than done. Fortunately, New Jersey workers have the protections offered by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides many with emergency paid leave to care for children affected by school and daycare closures, as well as to care for themselves or their loved ones.
The law remains in effect through the end of 2020, and mandates that employers (private companies with fewer than 500 employees and most government employers) provide both Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Childcare Leave. The Sick Leave provides up to two weeks of paid leave for employees to care for themselves or a loved one quarantined or suffering symptoms, as well as for school/childcare closure relating to their children. The Childcare Leave provides 12 weeks of job-protected leave, with the first two weeks unpaid and the remaining 10 weeks paid under the terms of the Family & Medical Leave Act if their school or childcare location is closed or unavailable as a result of pandemic closures or illness.
Importantly, these federal protections have been bolstered by additional actions taken by the New Jersey legislature. On April 14th, the state senate approved S2374 which amended the already robust New Jersey Family Leave Act to provide 12 weeks of job protection if a parent needs to stay home to care for children whose schools were closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. This extension of protections revises provisions of the previously amended New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law and retroactive covered leave parents may have taken on or after March 25th 2020, when the pandemic first began impacting the residents of the state.
Specifically, the amendment separately cites COVID-19 as a reason for leave, whether the leave is needed in response to a state of emergency declared by the Governor or as needed by the Commissioner of Health or any other public health authority. It explicitly refers to the epidemic, known or suspected exposure to a communicable disease, or efforts to prevent the spread of the disease. Also of note, while New Jersey employers are generally able to deny NFLA to highly compensated employees if granting leave might cause economic harm to their company’s operations, the epidemic-related leave cannot be denied. Also, the leave does not need to be taken consecutively: it can be taken intermittently as long as the employer is given prior notice and the employee makes a reasonable effort to schedule their leave around their employer’s needs.
There are tens of thousands of New Jersey children who have been affected by their school districts’ closures. While they’ve been forced to give up classroom environments and direct interaction with their friends and their teachers, parents have found themselves doubling up on their daytime responsibilities: They need to attend to their careers at the same time that they’re overseeing their children’s education. For some it is simply too much. That’s where the Emergency Childcare Leave can be a lifesaver. It lets employees who’ve been employed for 30 or more days get paid time away from work so that they can care for their child, whether that child is biological, adopted, foster, legal ward, stepchild, or for whom the employee is acting as a legal stand in for the parent. It also applies to the care of adult children who are unable to care for themselves as a result of physical or mental disability.
It is frightening to walk away from a job, even if it’s temporary, forced by a pandemic and being done for the sake of your child. If you work alongside 25 or more employees and you need to take this time off, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act protects your job. For those whose companies employ fewer than 25 employees, under the law your employer must make a reasonable effort to protect your job or provide you with an equivalent role with your company.
While the first ten days of emergency childcare leave are required to be taken as unpaid leave, the following ten weeks offer guaranteed paid leave. If you are encountering a challenge to your rights under the law and you need information or assistance, contact us today.