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Expanded Family Leave Helps New Jersey Caregivers


Caregivers struggling to balance jobs and family responsibilities will receive more paid leave, flexibility and employment protections, thanks to a major expansion of the state’s family-leave programs on July 1.

The changes, backed by AARP New Jersey, could be a great help to families during the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the state’s Family Leave Act, amended last year, a caregiver whose employer has 30 or more workers may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave over a 24-month period to care for a relative or partner, up from the previous six weeks.

Paid leave will also increase from six to 12 weeks in a one-year period and from 66 to 85 percent of an employee’s weekly salary, up to a maximum of $881 (from $667). The money comes from the employee-funded Family Leave Insurance program.

The insurance program has had low participation rates, but this time the state is pumping $1.2 million into a public education effort. The national health crisis is also raising awareness.

“With the coronavirus pandemic, it has become even more crucial that workers know that paid time off is available to them,” said Crystal McDonald, advocacy director of AARP New Jersey.

The paid family-leave program now strictly prohibits employers with 30 or more workers from discriminating against or firing someone for taking time off for caregiving.

“I think making sure jobs are safe is the most important thing,” said Madeline Deleski, 60, of Bound Brook, who retired early, two years ago, because caring for her mother while working full-time was exhausting.

“If my job didn’t feel secure, caring for my mom would have been so much more stressful.”

More paid leave

But it’s the extra time and money in the expanded paid family-leave program that will likely attract more participation, said Liz Mahn, deputy budget director in the Senate Majority Office, who helped craft the provisions.

“The biggest benefit in the expansion is increasing the maximum income,” said Mahn. “That’s something people can really use.”

The amended law also broadens the definition of family, allowing for the care of nonrelatives, including friends, neighbors and any others “equivalent of a family relationship.”

What’s more, caregivers don’t have to take the allotted leave time all at once. The insurance program allows intermittent time off of up to 56 days. An employee could, for example, take off one or two days a week.

“Intermittent care is so important for caregivers,” said Deleski. “If the person you care for has doctor appointments or just a day where they need a full eight hours, what are your options?”

Deleski hires a neighbor to provide respite care when she needs time off. Under the amended law, this neighbor could be eligible to take paid caregiving leave from work with full job protection.

The current health crisis has elevated the issue of family leave to a top priority, McDonald said.

To learn more about and apply for family-leave benefits, go to or call 609-292-7060.

AARP New Jersey has news about caregiving resources at

Aliya King is a writer living in Bloomfield, N.J.

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