The city of Elizabeth recently became the 10th New Jersey municipality to enact a paid sick leave law. The list of New Jersey cities with such a law includes Bloomfield, East Orange, Irvington, Jersey City, Montclair, Newark, Passaic, Paterson, and Trenton. Elizabeth’s law, which becomes effective on March 2, 2016, largely mirrors the laws that have been passed by other municipalities.

Accrual and Use

The Elizabeth law applies to all private employers regardless of the number of employees they have. However, the amount of paid sick leave employees are eligible to take varies based on the employer’s total number of employees.

Eligible employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work. Employees working for employers with 10 or fewer workers may accrue only 24 hours of sick leave per year. Employers with 10 or more employees must provide workers with 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. Employers in the childcare, home healthcare, and food service industries must provide employees 40 hours of annual sick leave regardless of their total number of employees.

Employees are not permitted to use their accrued sick time until their 90th day of employment. To be eligible for the benefit, an employee must work at least 80 hours in a calendar year. Paid sick time need not be taken in full-day increments.

Carryover

Employees may apply up to 40 hours of accrued sick time to the following year. However, an employer need not allow employees to use more than 40 hours of paid sick time in a single calendar year. Employees are not entitled to payment for unused sick time upon termination.

Elizabeth employers with existing paid leave policies should review their policies to determine whether they satisfy the requirements of the law. Sick leave policies will be deemed compliant if employees are eligible for at least as much paid sick time as the law grants them.

Permissible Uses of Paid Sick Time

The law allows employees to use paid sick time for the medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of their own or a family member’s mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition. The law also allows employees to use paid sick time when their place of business or their child’s school or day care is closed because of a public health emergency or if they must care for a family member who has been officially quarantined because of exposure to a communicable disease.

Notice and Documentation

If an employee’s need to take paid sick leave is foreseeable, the employer may require “reasonable” notice. The law doesn’t define “reasonable,” but the notice requirement cannot exceed seven days. If the leave is not foreseeable, the employer may only require notice before the beginning of the employee’s scheduled workday or as soon as practicable in the case of an emergency.

If an employee requests paid sick leave on three consecutive occasions (days or instances if leave is used in increments of less than a full day on three consecutive days), the employer may require documentation from a healthcare professional to establish that the leave was used for a covered purpose.

Employers must provide current employees written notice of their rights under the law as soon as practicable following the law’s effective date of March 2, 2016. All new employees must also receive notice.

Penalties and Prohibition on Retaliation

Employers that are not in compliance with the law when it goes into effect will be subject to fines and may be required to compensate employees for any amount of paid sick time that is unlawfully withheld. Also, similar to the other laws enacted by New Jersey municipalities, Elizabeth’s law contains a prohibition on retaliating against an employee for taking paid sick leave.

By James M. Leva

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