Jersey City Adopts Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

David J. Reilly and Harrison J. McAvoy

Jersey City is now among a growing number of cities that have adopted laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to employees.  Jersey City’s ordinance became effective on January 24, 2014.

The ordinance requires employers with more than ten employees that operate within Jersey City to provide paid sick leave to all employees employed in Jersey City, regardless of full-time or part-time status. Employees of businesses with less than ten employees also must be permitted to accrue sick leave, but such leave may be unpaid.  In addition, the ordinance provides that an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for taking sick leave, reporting a violation of the ordinance or engaging in other activities protected under the ordinance.

The ordinance creates a number of compliance issues for Jersey City employers.  Internal rules for accruing sick leave must satisfy some minimum requirements.  For instance, employees must accumulate sick leave at a rate of at least one hour of leave for every thirty hours worked.  Sick leave may be taken for both the employee’s own illness or to care for a family member (the ordinance contains a broad definition of “family member” that extends beyond the nuclear family).  In addition, employers must retain records pertaining to sick time taken by employees for three years.

Employers are not required to allow employees to use more than forty hours of sick leave in one calendar year and are not required to carry over more than forty hours for an employee from a prior calendar year.  The ordinance does not require employers to compensate employees for unused sick time upon termination of employment; however, if an employee is rehired after a separation of six months or less, that employee’s previously accrued sick leave must be reinstated.

The ordinance does contain some safeguards against employee abuse of sick leave.  For example, after three consecutive days of leave, an employer may require the employee to provide documentation from a health care professional stating that the time off is necessary.  However, an employer is prohibited from requiring that the documentation explain the nature of the illness.

An employer may satisfy the ordinance’s leave requirement through a pre-existing paid time off (“PTO”) leave policy which both permits taking leave for the purposes set forth in the ordinance and meets the ordinance’s minimum accrual requirements.  Thus, an employer with a compliant pre-existing leave policy need not provide any additional leave under the ordinance.

For unionized employees who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement in effect as of the effective date of the ordinance, the ordinance does not become effective until after the termination of the current collective bargaining agreement.

The ordinance also includes specific notice and posting requirements, violation of which may subject an employer to fines.  Employers must provide written notice of rights under the ordinance to individual employees, and display an informational poster in the workplace.  Both the notice and the poster must conform to certain foreign language requirements.  Forms of posters that satisfy the ordinance’s requirements are available on Jersey City’s website.