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Your Rights Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) And New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA)
As an employee working in the state of New Jersey, you’ve no doubt heard co-workers, friends, or family members refer to “family leave” or the “family medical leave act.” These phrases refer to two separate laws that benefit many working people in this state – the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), which is a federal law, and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”). , which you probably think is a state law. Basically, these laws provide periods of unpaid leave during which a qualified employee’s job is protected, as well as certain benefits. For non-military employees, an employee may be entitled to a benefit of 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period under the FMLA and 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 24-month period under the NJFLA. The concept under both laws is to place an employee in the same job position after the expiration of family leave.
On the face of it, these laws seem relatively straightforward in terms of the benefits provided. However, in practice, issues often arise such as whether a particular employee is entitled to leave, the calculation of the leave period, and the concurrent operation of leave periods under the FMLA and NJFLA. Given the not-so-obvious pitfalls surrounding the implementation of these laws, employers often simply don’t know the law or, worse, mistakenly believe they fully understand the intricacies of the leave acts, both of which lead to misapplication of the law. the law.
In general, the FMLA and NJFLA apply to all private employers with 50 or more employees and all public and government agencies, regardless of the number of employees. However, even the basic task of calculating the number of employees working for a private employer is complicated by provisions in holiday laws that increase the number of employees attributable to an employer if it is shown that there is common management, ownership and control of a subsidiary, division or related entity of the designated employer.
To qualify for FMLA leave, an employee must have worked for a specific employer for a minimum of 12 months and have worked 1,250 base hours in the 12 months preceding the leave. Compare the NJFLA, which requires the same 12-month period of employment, but reduces the base hour requirement to 1,000 hours in the previous 12 months for leave entitlement. The eligibility calculation is also not always what it seems – the minimum 12-month period of work for an employer does not have to be consecutive work months and includes partial work weeks, sick leave, vacation time and other paid holidays. Compare the basic hourly requirement, which does not include vacation, sick leave or other personal leave, with this requirement.
Under the FMLA and NJFLA, leave is available to eligible employees for the birth or adoption of a child and to care for the serious medical condition of an immediate family member (generally a parent, spouse, or child). Unlike the NJFLA, the FMLA extends leave to cover the employee’s own serious medical condition. A serious medical condition is generally defined as a physical or medical illness, injury, injury, or condition that requires hospital care or ongoing treatment by a health care provider. Issues raised by the definition of serious medical condition include the overlap with an employee’s privacy protections in his or her medical records and the permissible communications an employer may have with an employee’s medical professionals. Additionally, under certain circumstances, cosmetic or elective surgery may qualify as a serious medical condition, as well as treatment for alcohol or substance abuse as opposed to deficiencies caused by alcohol or drug use.
Since leave provided by FMLA and NJFLA may cover the same event, it is often necessary to determine the concurrent execution of leave under both acts. For example, a work-injured individual who is unable to work for 12 weeks because of his or her disability would exhaust 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA. If, on the last day of the employee’s own disability, his/her spouse is seriously injured in a car accident, the employee is entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the NJFLA. In contrast, however, a situation where an employee must provide care to a child for a serious medical condition and 12 weeks of unpaid leave under both FMLA and NJFLA would run concurrently.
the issue that often arises is whether an employer can compel an employee to use paid time off at the same time as unpaid time off provided by the FMLA and NJFLA. The short answer is yes – an employer can require you to take paid time off, ie sick time and holidays during your unpaid leave period. The principle here is that an employer should follow its past practice regarding the exhaustion of all accrued paid leave during a leave of absence. In other words, the employer’s practice must be consistent for purposes of the leave act with its policy on using paid leave during other periods of unpaid leave.
For employees and employers alike, the FMLA and NJFLA present difficult questions of law and fact. At risk for employers who wrongly deny an employee leave is litigation and potentially significant monetary penalties. At risk for employees who do not properly follow the leave act guidelines is the loss of much-needed time off and termination. For these reasons, it is imperative that employers and employees consult with a legal professional regarding the FMLA and NJFLA.
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