The federal and state laws contained in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) are intended to provide employees with the opportunity to take unpaid time off from work when dealing with certain family life events. Both federal and New Jersey family and medical leave laws cover employees recovering from or caring for a family member with a serious health condition, women experiencing pregnancy complications or ordered on bed rest, parents seeking to bond with a new child, and certain circumstances involving a family member serving in the military. While both of these laws apply to similar situations, there are slight differences between the two.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that was enacted to guarantee workers up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave from work and continued health benefits if they face certain covered medical or childcare obligations that temporarily prevent them from performing their job duties. Given that the FMLA is a federal law, it applies to a significant portion of employers and employees located in New Jersey.
To qualify for FMLA benefits, an employee must have worked for their employer for at least twelve months, whether consecutive or not; and must have worked for at least 1,250 hours during the twelve months immediately preceding the date on which their leave would commence.
The FMLA applies to all public employers, including federal, state, and local government agencies. It also applies to private employers that have had 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius, for at least 20 work-weeks during either the year in question or the previous year.
New Jersey has its own Family Leave Act that overlaps with the FMLA in some ways and differs in others. The New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) extends the FMLA, which includes employees who are caring for sick parents, to also include employees caring for in-laws with serious health conditions. The NJFLA also expands the eligibility criteria for companies to include any company that has 50 employees anywhere in the world, not just within a 75-mile radius. The New Jersey Family Leave Act is more limited, however, in that it only provides for 12 weeks of leave within a 24-month span of time. The FMLA actually allows for 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period.
In addition to the employer and employee eligibility requirements listed above, employees may only take advantage of their twelve weeks of unpaid leave if they experience a qualifying family or medical emergency. Courts have identified a number of events that may qualify for family and medical leave and the statute’s related protections.
Serious Health Conditions
The most common event that entitles an employee to leave is a serious health condition, suffered either by the employee or by someone in their immediate family (spouse, parent, child, etc.). A serious health condition is one that is more serious than the common cold, a flu, a headache, or the like—it must temporarily prevent the employee from performing their job duties. If the employee or their family member suffers from such a serious medical condition, the FMLA and NJFLA permit the employee to use protected leave to recover or provide care for up to twelve weeks. Similarly, a recent amendment to the FMLA provides for up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave for an employee to care for an active duty military servicemember who was injured on the job.
Other events also qualify for protection under FMLA and NJFLA. Employees may be entitled to leave over the course of their pregnancy, particularly when a doctor has placed the employee on bed rest or when the employee faces pregnancy-related complications. Parental leave after the birth of a child, including leave time for a mother or father to provide continuing care for the infant or for an incapacitated spouse after the pregnancy, can also qualify for unpaid leave. Finally, placement of an adopted or foster child in the home—including leave time prior to the placement or adoption that would enable the employee to attend counseling sessions, appear in court, or travel to another country to complete the adoption—has similarly qualified employees for family and medical leave coverage.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) guarantee a qualifying employee’s right to medical leave by requiring that an employer refrain from retaliating against, penalizing, or otherwise discouraging an employee from taking family or medical leave. The employer must maintain the employee’s health coverage during the leave, and it must restore the employee to their original or an equivalent job upon their return from leave. That means the employee is entitled to the same salary, benefits, and other employment terms. Use of family and medical leave cannot result in the loss of any employment benefits that the employee earned prior to the commencement of the leave.
Family and Medical Leave Specialists