Mason, Griffin & Pierson, P.C.

Employers Guide to Family and Medical Leave Law

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA)

Both the FMLA and the NJFLA require employers with fifty or more employees to provide employees with twelve weeks of unpaid leave for family and medical leave. The FMLA allows leave for:

  • the birth or adoption of a child
  • care of a family member with a serious health condition
  • the employee's own serious health condition
  • an exigency arising out of a family member’s active duty in the armed forces

The NJFLA allows leave for:

  • the birth or adoption of a child
  • the serious health condition of a family member

Although the laws are similar in many respects, there are some significant differences. New Jersey employers must comply with the requirements of both laws.

New Jersey Paid Family Leave Act

The New Jersey Paid Family Leave Act provides six weeks of temporary disability benefits for employees taking leave to care for:

  • a newborn or adopted child
  • a family member with a serious health condition

Unlike the FMLA and NJFLA, there is no minimum number of employees for an employer to be covered. Similar to the FMLA and NJFLA, an employer may permit or require the employee to take up to two weeks of available paid sick or vacation pay. The employer is allowed to reduce the disability payment period by the amount of paid leave provided. Substituted vacation and sick pay and the disability payment period run concurrently with the twelve weeks received under the FMLA and NJFLA.

12 Weeks = 12 Weeks

Employees who take family or medical leave are entitled to return to their job or a reasonably equivalent job at the end of the twelve weeks. The FMLA and NJFLA job protections do not extend beyond twelve weeks, even when the employer approves longer leave.

At-Will Employment

Absent a contract, all employment in New Jersey is at-will. At-will employees may be terminated for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all. Termination may not be due to race, gender, or other prohibited basis. However, if there is a contract with an employee, the at-will doctrine does not apply. Whether or not there is a contract changing the employee's at-will status is a sticky issue in New Jersey. A contract for employment may arise from a company policy, a handbook, past practices or from a verbal promise made by the employer directly to the employee.

Good News for Employers

Family and Medical Leave job protection is strictly limited to twelve weeks. The FMLA and NJFLA may be not be extended by employer agreement.

Bad News for Employers

Statements and policies in contradiction of the employer’s handbook can create contract rights in favor of employees and override a statement in the employee handbook that employment is at-will. In those cases, employers may be held liable if they take action inconsistent with those promises or policies. This may not seem like earthshattering news, but employers beware. If the employer arguably creates a policy (formally or informally), deviation from that policy can create liability on the employer’s part for breach of contract.

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