For about 1.2 million people in New Jersey, taking a sick day from work means forfeiting a day's pay. It may even mean jeopardizing a job.
That reality will begin to change on Oct. 29, when a law takes effect that should end that agonizing choice between working while sick or losing money.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed the paid sick leave law in May, which will require most employers to pay for a limited number of sick days, based on hours already worked that year.
Here's what you need to know about the law, based on our analysis, as well as that of experts such as Karen White, director for Policy Analysis and Community Engagement for the Rutgers Center for Women and Work.
Who benefits from the law
The law applies to part-time as well as full-time employees. Businesses of all sizes must comply.
Murphy and the law's lead sponsors, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, and Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, have said it's the broadest and strongest law of its kind in the country. Parents who need a day off for a meeting at school or a doctor's appointment for their parent or child are eligible.
The people ringing you up at the cash register, serving you meals or taking care of your grandparent at home usually do not get sick time. This law was written for them.
It's not for everyone
The law does not apply to union workers in the construction industry, per diem health care workers, or public employees who already receive sick pay.
If you live in New Jersey and work outside the state, this law will not benefit you. It only applies to those working in New Jersey.
New Jersey's neighbors — Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York — are not among the one 10 states with a paid sick leave law.
The other states that passed a sick pay law are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington D.C., according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
You've got to earn it before you take it
Beginning Oct. 29, employees will begin accruing hours that will count toward sick pay. For every 30 hours worked, they will be entitled to one hour of leave, for a maximum of 40 hours in a year. This paid time off can start to be used after 120 days.
The fine print
* Employees may carry over a maximum of 40 hours of sick leave into the following year.
* Employers who already provide "paid time off" – used for vacation, holidays or whatever workers choose — do not have to create an additional sick leave policy. The New Jersey Business and Industry Association fought to get this provision included, according to an NJBIA blog by
* Employees must give advance notice when a time-off request is foreseeable. Unforeseeable requests must be made as soon as possible.
* Employers may prohibit employees from using foreseeable sick time on select dates, such as major holidays. If the request on these dates was not foreseeable, the employer may request a doctor's note or other documentation to justify the request.
It's not just for sick days
Employees may use earned sick days for:
- Their own health needs or that of a family member, defined in the law as a “child, grandchild, sibling, spouse, domestic partner, civil union partner, parent, or grandparent or any other individual related by blood to the employee or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship”;
- Issues resulting from an employee (or family member of employee) being a victim of domestic or sexual violence, including medical attention necessary for physical or physical or psychological injury; obtaining services from a designated domestic violence agency or other victim services organization; relocation; or legal services, including participation in any related legal proceeding;
- Closure of the employee's workplace, school or childcare due to a public health emergency;
- A child's school-related conference, meeting, function or other event.
Here's what happens to employers who don't follow the law
Any employer who is convicted of "knowingly and willfully" violating the law or retaliating against workers who take sick days would face a fine ranging from $100 to $1,000 or face 10 days to 90 days in jail for the first offense. Repeat offenders would face fines from $500 to $1,000, or 10 days to 100 days in jail, or both.
Violators may face penalties each week an employee accrues time off.
The Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner may also levy fines of $250 to $500.
Employers must spread the word
If you are hoping to use the law and haven't heard much about it in the workplace yet, don't worry.
Employers in New Jersey know this is coming. Within 30 days of the law taking effect they must post a sign outlining workers' rights, said Labor department spokeswoman Angela Delli Santi. The poster will be available on the department's website for downloading, she said.
"We're in the process of translating that into more than a dozen languages," she said.
The department has fielded more than 100 calls from employers asking questions about the impact of the law, she said.
"People are paying attention," Della Santi said.