Employee Rights

An Introduction to New Jersey’s Earned Sick Leave Law

David Zatuchni

Good news for employees: New Jersey passed legislation ensuring that workers are guaranteed paid time off for illness and related matters.  The Earned Sick Leave Law (the “ESLL”), effective February 2019, requires employers to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave to employees each benefit year.  Here’s a quick primer on how the law operates.

Who is covered?

Generally speaking, all employees, regardless of the size of your employer, and regardless of whether you are a full-time or part-time employee.  The only exemptions are for certain categories of workers, namely: per diem healthcare workers, construction workers whose employment is governed by a collective bargaining agreement, and public employees who already receive paid sick leave.

How do I earn sick leave?  How much am I paid?

Under the ESLL, you earn one hour of paid leave per every 30 hours that you work.  Your employer must pay you the same rate of pay as you normally receive. The exception is if you use earned sick leave for scheduled overtime hours; in that case, your employer is only required to pay you your normal rate of pay, as opposed to time-and-a-half.

When am I eligible for earned sick leave? When does the benefit year run?

For workers hired before October 29, 2018, you may begin accruing paid sick leave on February 26, 2019.  For workers hired after that date, you must wait 120 days after your date-of-hire to begin accruing leave.

As to when your benefit year runs? Ask your employer.  The ESLL mandates that employers use the same benefit year for all employees, regardless of their date-of-hire.  Most employers choose to use the calendar year or the fiscal year.

What can I use earned sick leave for?

Not necessarily for “sickness”! The ESLL allows earned sick leave to be used for:

  • Caring for your own physical or mental health, or for that of a family member;
  • Addressing domestic or sexual violence against yourself or a family member, including attending court proceedings or counseling sessions;
  • Attending your child’s school-related meeting, conference, or event;
  • Taking care of your child when school or child care is closed due to an epidemic or public health emergency.

The ESLL broadens the use of “child” and “family member” to include step and foster children, as well as grandparents/grandchildren, siblings, and domestic partner/civil union spouses and children, among others.

What are the notice requirements for leave? Do I have to provide documentation?

  • Notice: If your leave is foreseeable, your employer may require you to provide seven days’ advance notice.  Foreseeable leave is planned leave – for example, time off to attend your child’s parent-teacher conference or a medical appointment you scheduled in advance.
  • Documentation: Your employer may require you to provide a doctor’s note or other documentation of your leave if it runs for three consecutive days or more.  Your employer may also require you to provide documentation if you take unforeseeable leave on a high-volume or special event day that your employer notifies you of in advance.  For instance, let’s say you work for a florist who notifies you in December that the coming Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are “high-volume” days for leave, since they are exceptionally busy.  If you call in sick the morning of Valentine’s Day, your employer is entitled to require you to document your need to be absent with a doctor’s note.

Does my earned sick leave carry over from year to year?  What if I’m terminated or quit?

The ESLL allows you to carry over up to 40 hours of earned sick leave from one calendar year to the next.  However, if you are fired or quit your job, you are not entitled to payment for any unused earned sick leave.

Since the ESLL is newly-enacted, we anticipate many issues will arise regarding its accrual, what comprises appropriate notice and documentation, and what sorts of time off is allowed under the Act.  If you have questions regarding Earned Sick Leave, call our offices today for a free consultation.

David Zatuchni
David Zatuchni graduated from Northwestern University School of Law in 1995. Since that time, he has exclusively practiced in the field of employment law. For many years, Mr. Zatuchni defended large corporations in all types of employment discrimination lawsuits and labor law matters. Read More

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