The Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) are both programs enacted to protect your job if you have to take time off work to care for a family member. The FMLA guarantees employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave from work without worry over interruptions in health benefits or losing one’s job. The NJFLA covers the same twelve-week time period, with the same guarantees of continued benefits and employment.
However, there are a few specific differences between the FMLA and the NJFLA. The FMLA allows employees up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period. However, the NJFLA specifies 12 weeks of leave over a 24-month period. The NJ state law also extends its reason for leave to include caring for in-laws, but the federal law does not include a spouse’s parents. In terms of company size and geography, the FMLA requires any company with 50 employees within a 75-mile radius to be covered, but the NJFLA covers employees of any company that employs 50 workers worldwide.
As with many laws that differ between federal and state mandates, employees benefit from both acts, but the additional state laws tend to encompass greater coverage for employees.
Justified Reasons for Using FMLA in N.J.
Both federal and state laws allow workers to use their leave for certain justifiable reasons. The most common include recovery from a serious health condition for the employee, bonding with a new child (maternity, paternity, adoption), caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or handling circumstances surrounding a family member’s military service.
For an illness to qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA or NJFLA, it must fall under certain categories. The condition must be an illness, impairment, injury or physical/mental condition that involves any of the following:
- Requires inpatient care by a health professional,
- Results in incapacity for more than three days with treatment from a health professional
- Incapacity as a result of pregnancy or prenatal care,
- Incapacity due to a chronic health condition,
- Incapacity due to a long-term or terminal health condition,
- Requires absence for more than three days for multiple treatments, which would result in further absence if left untreated.
Bonding with a New Child
Rather than only offering maternity leave for mothers who have just given birth, the FMLA and NJFLA offer leave for bonding for either a mother or father after a baby is born. Additionally, this leave is offered also to parents who have newly adopted a baby or child of any age, to give the same amount of leave time to bond with the child.
Caring for a Family Member
Both federal and state laws allow an employee to leave work for up to 12 weeks to care for a family member who is suffering from a serious health condition. The same parameters apply for the family member as listed above for the employee. While most commonly used to care for sick children in the family, FMLA allows leave to also care for your spouse or parent if they are suffering from a health condition. Additionally, the NJFLA allows you to take leave if you need to care for your mother- or father-in-law.
What is Covered by FMLA or NJFLA?
It is important to note that FMLA or NJFLA leave is UNPAID leave. This is different from paid vacation time or regular sick days, which do not affect salary. Because Family Leave can last up to twelve weeks, employers are not required to pay you in your extended absence. Instead, these laws simply protect you from losing your job and benefits.
When you apply for Family Leave with your employer, you will need to specify the reasons for and expected length of leave you require. Your employer must then reserve either your job or a job of equal status and pay to you upon your return. If they must hire someone else to your position in your absence, you may need to shift your role accordingly when you go back to work.
While you will not receive salaried pay during your Family Leave absence, your employer must continue your medical benefits during your leave. Any interruptions or changes to your health coverage must be the same as is applied to all other employees.
Were Your Benefits and/or Job Threatened by your Family Leave?
If you took justified Family Leave from your place of work, and your benefits or job were threatened, you may have a claim against your employer that could result in reinstatement, compensation, or both.
Federal and state laws are in place to protect your right to work, even if you have to take leave from your position for your own or your family’s medical needs. If you lost your job or benefits due to taking family leave, contact our experienced employment lawyers at Castronovo & McKinney.
Our FMLA employment attorneys specialize in FMLA and NJFLA law and want to help you regain your job or sufficient compensation for your unlawful job loss. Employers must honor the federal and state laws in place to protect workers. We know these laws inside and out and can help you reclaim your working privileges. Contact our offices today for a free consultation of your case. We will answer all questions you may have about your eligibility and will guide you through the legal process of making your claim.