In response to the COVID-19 crisis, over the past two months significant amendments have been made to New Jersey employment laws, including the State’s mini-WARN Act, Family Leave Act and Earned Sick Leave Act. An overview of the impact of the crisis upon these laws is provided below.
Impact upon New Jersey’s mini-WARN Act
Prior to the crisis coming to New Jersey, on January 21, 2020, Governor Murphy signed into law a set of amendments to New Jersey’s mini-WARN Act, the Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act. These amendments, which were scheduled to take effect on July 19, 2020, will increase the burden upon New Jersey employers by expanding the notice requirement for mass layoffs from 60 to 90 days, by lowering the threshold of a mass layoff from 500 employees to 50 employees even if fewer than 33% of the workforce is effected, and by making New Jersey the first state in the nation to require severance pay for mass layoffs.
However, in response to the burdens placed upon employers by the COVID-19 crisis, the Governor singed a second set of amendments to the mini-WARN Act on April 14, 2020 to temper the burden upon New Jersey employers. Most importantly, these amendments, which apply retroactively to March 9, 2020, delay the effective date of the expansion of the mini-WARN Act from July 19, 2020 to 90 days after the State lifts the pandemic state of emergency, and exclude from the definition of mass layoff any layoff that is necessitated by certain sudden causes, including, fire, flood, natural disaster, act of war or national emergency. Accordingly, employers who implement, or have implemented, mass layoffs in response to the COVID-19 national emergency will not be deemed to have violated the Act.
Impact upon New Jersey’s Family Leave Act
Also on April 14, 2020, the Governor signed into law an expansion of New Jersey’s Family Leave Act (the “NJFLA”) to include leave necessitated by providing care to a family member made necessary by an epidemic of a communicable disease, a known or suspected exposure to a communicable disease, or efforts to prevent the spread of a communicable disease, such as COVID-19. This expansion will allow employees who need to take leave from work to care for a family member during the COVID-19 crisis to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave in a 24-month period. This expansion is effective retroactively to March 25, 2020.
Impact upon New Jersey’s Earned Sick Leave Act
On March 25, 2020, the Governor signed into law an amendment to New Jersey’s Earned Sick Leave Law. That amendment provides that earned sick leave may be used where the employee’s workplace, school or childcare facility is closed in response to a state of emergency declared by the Governor in connection with an epidemic or public health emergency. Sick leave may also be taken where a health care provider or authority has determined that the employee’s presence would jeopardize the health of others in the community, or where the employees provides needed care for a family member determined to pose such a risk, or the employee or family member for whom the employee provides necessary care has been placed in isolation or quarantine as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease.
Further information regarding worker protections during the COVID-19 crisis may be accessed through the following links:
Earp Cohn will remain at the forefront of all developments and will continue to provide real-time updates. In the meantime, companies and individuals needing guidance should reach out to our attorneys for assistance.