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Sumter Bill to Protect Benefits for Workers Laid-Off Due to Emergencies like Sandy Becomes Law

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter to help protect benefits for workers laid-off or furloughed due to a state of emergency was signed into law recently.

“Instances like Superstorm Sandy highlighted gaps in our existing laws that can pose an enormous financial hardship for employees who suddenly find themselves out of work due to no fault of their own,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This law will help ensure that working families, in particular, aren’t hit doubly hard if an emergency or natural disaster prevents them from working.”

The new law (A-4527) helps to maintain eligibility for workers who may otherwise lose eligibility for certain leave and benefits due to loss of employment during a disaster or emergency for which a state of emergency is declared.

This statute will apply to eligibility determinations for leave under the “Family Leave Act” and the “New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act,” (SAFE Act) and eligibility determinations for temporary disability insurance (TDI) benefits and family leave insurance (FLI).

Prior to the new law, a worker was not eligible for leave under the FLA or SAFE Act unless employed at least 1,000 hours during the preceding year, and is not eligible for TDI or FLI benefits unless establishing at least 20 “base weeks” (with pay each week at least 20 times the minimum wage), or earning a total of 1,000 times the minimum wage, during the preceding year.

Current law now provides that, in the case of an individual who is laid off or furloughed by an employer curtailing operations because of a state of emergency declared after October 22, 2012, any time in which the individual is separated from employment is regarded as time in which the individual is employed for the purpose of determining whether the individual is eligible for leave under the FLA or the SAFE Act, or benefits under the TDI or FLI laws.

This exception would apply to up to a maximum of 90 calendar days for the FLA or the SAFE Act, and up to 13 weeks under the TDI or FLI laws.