Minimum Wage Increase, Family Leave Expansion Measures Gain Final Legislative Approvals, Sent to Governor

Legislative measures to increase New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and expand the state’s paid family leave law passed Thursday in both houses of the state Legislature. 

The bills have been sent to Gov. Phil Murphy, who is all but guaranteed to sign them both.

Under the minimum wage bill (A15) the base minimum wage for New Jersey workers will increase to $10 per hour on July 1, 2019. The following January 1 (2020), the statewide minimum wage would increase to $11 per hour, and then would increase by $1 per hour every new year until it reaches $15 hour in 2024.

Some workers will reach the $15 per hour wage later. Seasonal workers and employees at small businesses of five workers or less would reach $15 per hour by January 1, 2026.

The paid family leave bill (A3975) would expand leave times, provide higher compensation to those taking leave, cover more family members, expand job protections and boost awareness of the program.

In 2008, New Jersey became the second state (after California) to adopt a paid family leave policy. On average, about 31,000 New Jerseyans have used paid family leave in each full year of its existence.

Key provisions of that legislation include:

Increasing Availability: Expanding the family members that program participants can care for to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, parents-in-law, and others related by blood or relationship equivalent to a family relationship; allowing for leave to be taken to care for a family member who has been a victim of an incident of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense, and extending benefits to parents of adopted children, foster children, or children conceived using a surrogate.

Increasing Leave Times & Flexibility: Doubling the maximum number of weeks of family temporary disability leave benefits for a period of family temporary disability leave from six to 12 weeks; providing that family temporary disability leave benefits for bonding with a newborn or an adopted child may be taken on an intermittent basis; increasing intermittent leave from 42 days to 84 days, which can help parents and caretakers stay at work on a part-time basis while still caring for a sick loved one or bonding with a newborn.

Greater Benefits That Will Allow More Families to Take Advantage of the Program: Expanding the amount that covered individuals would collect in benefits, allowing for more people to take advantage of the program; increasing the amount of weekly benefits from two-thirds of a claimant's average weekly wage to 90 percent of that wage, up to a maximum of 100 percent of the state average weekly wage.

Job Protections and Remedies: Strengthening protections for program participants by specifying that an employer may not discharge, harass, threaten, discriminate or retaliate against an employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment on the basis that the employee took or requested leave to which the employee was entitled; providing for various remedies in cases of such retaliation, and applies existing penalties of the Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) law to employers who fail to provide the notifications and disclosures at the time and in the manner required by the TDI and (Family Leave Insurance (FLI) laws; job protection for any participant employed by a business with 30 or more employees when fully implemented.

Increasing Program Efficiency, Public Awareness, and Reporting of Program Data: Requiring the state to implement goals for timely processing and payment of temporary disability and family temporary disability benefits and require the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development to issue annual reports regarding efforts to attain those goals; directing the state to disseminate information about the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees regarding family temporary disability benefits; requiring the collection and timely reporting of data on program usage and characteristics of program participants, which will help policymakers make informed decisions on future changes to the program. 

The NJCUL had unsuccessfully requested amendments to provide more extensive relief for the small employers and not-for-profits such as credit unions.