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TRENTON, NJ—On May 2, the State of New Jersey adopted paid sick leave legislation that is considerably improving the conditions of New Jersey employees.
Paid sick days, also called "earned sick leave," are days employees can take off from work when they are sick or have to take care of a sick family member, while being paid and not being at risk of losing their job.
Starting in October 2018, when the law will take effect, every employee working in New Jersey will accrue one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours each year.
Before this law was adopted, 1.2 million workers in New Jersey were at risk of losing their job if they had to miss a day of work for medical reasons. After signing the law, Governor Phil Murphy tweeted a video of New Brunswick resident Reynalda Cruz describing her personal situation as one of those workers that did not have a paid sick leave protection.
For those people, it meant that if they were sick they didn’t have the possibility to stay home without risking their job.
According to supporters of the law, this was dangerous for the workers themselves, as working sick increases the risk of having an accident at work, but it was also a public health issue since a lot of workers in the food service industry had to go to work sick and could infect their colleagues and the consumers.
The new legislation is an improvement on a 2015 ordinance adopted by the New Brunswick City Council and signed by Mayor James Cahill.
Since then, New Brunswick has required all city-based businesses with five or more workers to guarantee their full-time workers 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, and 25 hours for part-time workers.
But some organizations openly criticized this ordinance, including the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and the New Jersey Citizen Action, who said the city law fell "well beyond the standard that other cities had established."
They argued that it did not cover employees working less than 20 hours a week and business with less than five employees were not required to follow the rule. They feared that the ordinance would encourage employer to keep small number of employees or to keep them under 20 hours a week.
In addition to that, critics said the obligation to provide a doctor justification for some absences could be a disincentive to low-income families without health insurance or with a common communicable disease such as flu, arguing they might be hesitant to pay for a visit that did not seem necessary.
The newly adopted state law will supersede the local ordinance and cover all employees regardless of the size of the business or the number of hours worked per week.
"We are very happy with [this] law," said Jerome Montes, the communication director of New Jersey Citizen Action, because "it protects almost all and the vast majority of the part-time workers."
The latest milestone in the campaign comes five years after Jersey City became the first New Jersey municipality to adopt a ‘paid sick leave’ ordinance.
Twelve others cities followed their example, and each time it was the result of the mobilization of community organizations like New Labor, Unity Square and the Esperanza Neighborhood Project in New Brunswick.
At the state level, a coalition of organizations took an active role in pushing for a new law: the New Jersey Time To Care Coalition.
The group is composed of several organizations including workers unions and faith groups. They plan to help the state with the implementation of the law.
The coalition is also mobilizing to improve the state legislation for "paid family leave," which offers working parents paid time off to take care of newborn children.