NJPSA Legal department
On July 3, 2023 Governor Murphy signed legislation that significantly expanded the eligible reasons for which a teaching staff member may take sick leave. Before the revision of the statute, N.J.S.A. 18A:30-1 defined sick leave as the absence of any person because of disability due to illness or injury or because of a contagious disease requiring a staff member to quarantine. It was straightforward. Basically, sick leave was for when an employee was ill. The revised statute has added a host of reasons, in addition to illness, that now qualify for the use of a sick day. Set forth below is a brief review of what the new revised sick leave law provides.
Categories of Permissible Use of Sick Leave
1. Being sick or injured.
2. Having to go to a physician for preventative care to obtain treatment or a diagnosis.
3. Having to care for a family member during diagnosis, care, or treatment.
4. Being a victim of domestic or sexual violence or having a family member be the subject of domestic or sexual violence.
5. Death of a family member – up to seven days.
6. Need to attend a child’s school-related conference, meeting, function, or other event requested or required by a school administrator, teacher, or other professional staff member responsible for the child’s education, or to attend a meeting regarding care provided to the child in connection with the child’s health conditions or disabilities.
7. The school or place of care of a child of the employee is closed by order of a public official or because of a state of emergency declared by the Governor, due to an epidemic or other public health emergency.
8. Experiencing or being exposed to a contagious disease requiring quarantine.
Family Member Defined
- Includes child, grandchild, sibling, spouse, domestic partner, civil union partner, parent, grandparent, or the spouse, domestic partner, or civil union partner of a parent or grandparent of the employee, or any other blood relation of the employee, or someone whose relationship with the employee is the equivalent of a family relation.
- For personal illness or injury the employee may be required to present a physician’s note excusing the employee. This is no different than what may be currently required.
- For treatment, diagnosis of either the employee or a family member, the employee may be required to provide a physician’s note indicating the need for the leave and its duration.
- For the closure of a school or child care facility of an employee’s child, the employee may be required to provide supporting documentation.
- For sexual or domestic violence, the employee may be required to provide supporting documentation.
Generally, legislation like the revised sick leave statute, will be liberally construed. But, as with most new or revised statutes there will be different interpretations. Set forth below is our guidance to help NJPSA members navigate the new statute.
1. The law gives a broad definition of “family member” which includes someone whose relationship with the employee is the “equivalence” of a family relationship. What constitutes a close association with the employee that is the equivalent of a family relationship?
This may include any person with whom the employee has a significant personal bond that is like a family relationship.
2. May an employee use sick leave for an appointment with a physician?
3. The law now includes absences for “preventative care.” What may be included as preventative care?
This includes routine screenings, checkups, and patient counseling to prevent health issues from occurring.
4. When does advanced notice need to be given for the use of a sick day?
An employee may be required to provide advanced notice for sick leave that is foreseeable.
5. How much advance notice must be given for sick leave that is foreseeable?
Up to seven days.
6. What is a foreseeable use of sick leave?
When an employee is able to know in advance that he or she will need to use sick leave such as a scheduled visit to a doctor, or a scheduled care of a family member who needs to visit a physician, or a school event known by the employee in advance for the employee’s child that he/she is requested or required to attend, or a proceeding having to do with domestic or sexual violence.
7. Does notice have to be provided if the sick leave is not foreseeable?
Yes. If the leave is not foreseeable an employee may nonetheless be required to provide notice as soon as practicable if the employer has notified the employee of such a requirement.
8. Can an employee be prohibited from using foreseeable sick leave on certain dates?
9. Can the employee be required to provide reasonable documentation if the sick leave taken is unforeseeable but used during a prohibited date.
10. If an employee is absent for three or more consecutive days, can the employee be required to provide documentation?
Yes, to assure that the leave being taken is permitted under the statute.
11. Does the employee have to be a victim of domestic or sexual violence to use a sick day?
No. The sick leave may be taken if a family member is a victim of domestic or sexual violence.
12. What type of documentation can be required for an absence due to domestic and/or sexual violence?
Documentation may include any one of the following: medical documentation, report from law enforcement, court order or documentation that the perpetrator has been convicted, certification from a domestic violence professional and/or a representative of an organization serving victims of domestic or sexual abuse; or documentation from a social worker, counselor, health care representative, attorney, or clergy assisting a victim of sexual or domestic abuse.
13. May an employee use a sick day in connection with an assembly in which the employee’s child has a role?
Yes. The statute speaks of events or functions at which the employee is requested to attend or is required to attend. Generally, for an assembly or other school events, a notice will be provided that will be looked upon as a request or an invitation.
14. The statute allows for up to a seven day-absence for death in the family. If a CBA also provides for bereavement leave of – for example – five days, how many days may the employee be absent?
The employee will be able to take up to seven sick days plus the days allowable by the CBA. The statute specifically states that the provisions of the law shall not reduce, diminish, or adversely affect an employee’s collective bargaining rights.
While a clear added benefit for school employees, the revised law may also result in increased absenteeism resulting in a greater need for substitutes at the very time that we are experiencing not only a teacher shortage, but a substitute shortage as well. Only time will tell how all of this will play out in the coming year. So, stay tuned. And, if there are any questions regarding the new sick leave statute, please be sure to contact the legal department of the NJPSA.