NJ Family Leave Insurance — Even Hourly Workers are Eligible
New Jersey's Family Leave Insurance program, which gives workers paid time off to care for a loved or new baby, gets a lot of credit from advocates nationwide.
But within the state's borders, not enough workers know about the benefits, and they're missing out, according to research released this month by The Shift Project at Harvard University's Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.
In a survey of 1,185 New Jersey low-wage hourly workers, only about half of the workers who had experienced a Family Leave event in the past year had actually utilized the program.
The study focused on the low-wage demographic of workers because they typically work for companies who are covered by the state's labor laws, but they may be unaware of the benefits available to them.
"They're kind of used to not getting benefits, they typically don't qualify for health insurance," said Elaine Zundl, a researcher on the project, who currently serves as a lecturer in political science and economics at Rowan University.
New Jersey Family Leave Insurance offers to cover up to 85% of a worker's pay. As of 2022, one must have worked 20 weeks earning at least $240 weekly in order to be eligible, or have earned a total of $12,000 over a 12-month period leading up to their application.
Beyond caring for an ill loved or a newborn, the leave can also be used by individuals recovering from a domestic violence incident.
Lack of awareness and confusion around eligibility appear to be the major barriers faced by hourly service workers, Zundl noted. Also, 85% of pay may not be enough to keep certain workers and their families afloat.
"Nearly half of workers who used FLI — 51% — reported that they would have taken more leave but not could not afford it," Zundl said.
Some workers, meanwhile, cited fear of retaliation — they felt pressure from their employer or colleagues, or returned to work sooner than planned because they feared losing their job.
The study's researchers note that New Jersey leads the way in offering these types of benefits to workers, but say more needs to be done to educate workers about the benefits that are available.