Retroactive paid sick leave could be coming to New Jersey workers who had to missed work after taking days off because of vaccine side effects or quarantining due to COVID-19.
The bill, S3827, would require employers to provide paid sick leave to workers who take leave from work for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic. It covers two weeks of sick leave if the employee can’t come to work because they are quarantining due to exposure or sickness, experiencing coronavirus symptoms or awaiting a test result, and caring for a sick family member or child without care.
It would also apply to workers regardless of how long they’ve been employed, and would be provided in addition to other paid sick leave already provided by the employer, the bill states.
The bill would be retroactive to Jan. 1 and run through Sept. 30.
The measure was voted out of the Senate Labor Committee Thursday, and now heads to the full Senate. It does not have a companion bill in the Assembly.
A recent study found nearly half of unvaccinated adults across the country are concerned about missing work due to side effects from the vaccine or needing to take time off to get the shot. Fear of missing work because of a reaction to the vaccine is the number three reason people claim they haven’t gotten inoculated, behind safety fears and concern about serious side effects, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation study.
More than 4.2 million New Jerseyans are fully vaccinated, and more than 9 million doses have been administered, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, the bill’s sponsor, said the program would be fully funded with federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan, “which means no cost to the large majority of New Jersey businesses.”
“This will provide significant public health benefits to New Jerseyans by reducing the spread of COVID-19, promoting vaccine access, and ensuring workers aren’t forced to choose between their jobs, and their health and caregiving needs,” she said.
April Fitch, a security officer at Newark Liberty Airport and a member of union 32BJ, said she fell sick on March 28, 2020 and was told to go to work after three days. After not feeling better, she went to the emergency room, where she paid a $150 copay and left without a diagnosis except to quarantine for two weeks.
Just three weeks later, her mother died of COVID-19 after catching the virus in the nursing home she was living in. Fitch said she had three weeks in total to recover and grieve the loss of her mom, exhausting all her paid sick leave and vacation time for the year.
“Adding financial hardship to the already complicated issue of the pandemic is cruel. We need to know if we fall ill, we can recover without the added stress of having to put food on the table,” she said, underscoring the importance of helping communities of color disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
More than two dozen 32BJ members died during the pandemic, and hundreds more were sick, said Kevin Brown, president of union.
“If (32BJ members) had enough vacation days, they use them up and go without pay, or some cases, they don’t have nearly enough days, so they go without pay,” he said. “So they have a double whammy of getting COVID — maybe dying — and not being paid.”
Employers could require documentation after three consecutive sick days, and the employer would be eligible to receive a fully refundable tax credit to cover the cost, which could be up to $2,000 or up to $5,100, depending on the worker’s reason for calling out.
Several business groups opposed the bill at the committee hearing.
“The retroactive nature with the bill…presents a problem, and it’s a human resource logistic nightmare to come up with records,” said Eileen Kean of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Ray Cantor, government affairs representative for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, contrasted the bill to a similar measure in Massachussetts, which is not retroactive. He also noted it could be a costly burden for employers, which the New England state resolved by creating a $75 million fund for business owners.
But advocates of the bill insist it will come at no cost to New Jersey, and could only be beneficial.
“We really think it’s free money for the state, its citizens, its employers, it’s a win-win for everybody,” said Brown. “Let’s take care of these people when they get Covid and not leave them without a paycheck.”
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.
Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips