Client Alert: Legislative Changes to the Family Leave Act and the WARN Act

Posted on May 4th, 2020

Earlier this month, the New Jersey Legislature made further changes to the state’s labor and employment laws in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In particular, the Legislature amended the Family Leave Act and the Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act (commonly known as the “NJ WARN Act”).  These changes directly impact the rights of both employers and employees throughout the state.  A brief summary is provided below:

 Family Leave Act

On April 14, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill S2374 (“S2374”) into law.  Among other things, S2374 amended the New Jersey Family Leave Act to provide job-protected leave when the Governor has declared a state of emergency.  In these circumstances, an employee who needs to care for a family member because of (1) an epidemic of a communicable disease, (2) a known or suspected exposure to a communicable disease, or (3) efforts to prevent the spread of a communicable disease to other members of the community is entitled to twelve (12) weeks of job-protected leave. 

The Family Leave Act defines a “family member” to mean “a child, parent, parent-in-law, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, spouse, domestic partner, or one partner in a civil union couple, or any other individual related by blood to the employee, and any other individual that the employee shows to have a close association with the employee which is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

While the Family Leave Act normally allows an employer to deny leave to the highest-paid 5% of its employees, or the seven highest paid employees (whichever is greater), subject to certain conditions being met, this exemption is suspended when the Governor declares a state of emergency and the leave requested is for one of the three reasons set forth above.  In addition, an employee may take intermittent leave for epidemic-related reasons without the employer’s consent so long as the employee (1) provides prior notice to the employer as soon as practicable and (2) makes a reasonable effort to not unduly disrupt the employer’s business operations.

The amendments to the New Jersey Family Leave Act contained within S2374 went into effect immediately and are retroactive to March 25, 2020.

NJ WARN Act

In 2019, the Legislature amended the NJ Warn Act to require that covered employers pay severance to employees that are terminated in connection with a covered event (the “2019 Amendment”).  The 2019 Amendment was scheduled to become effective on July 19, 2020.

In light of the pandemic, the Governor signed S2353 into law on April 14, 2020.  S2353 delays the effective date of the 2019 Amendment from July 19, 2020, until ninety (90) days following the termination of Executive Order 103 of 2020, wherein the Governor declared a state of emergency and a public health emergency.  At the time of publication, the Governor has indicated Executive Order 103 will not be terminated before May 15, 2020 and, therefore, the 2019 Amendment to the NJ WARN Act will not go into effect until August 15, 2020, at the earliest.

S2353 also amended the definition of a “mass layoff” to exclude layoffs “made necessary because of a fire, natural disaster, national emergency, act of war, civil disorder[,] or industrial sabotage[.]”  The definitional change is retroactive to March 9, 2020.