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Additional family leave reporting requirements would be burdensome, group says

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Calling it “information overload,” a business group is shooting down a state senator's proposal for more notification about the state's family leave program, saying the new requirements would be burdensome for businesses.

Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Edison) today introduced a bill in the Senate Labor committee that would require employers to proactively inform workers about their rights under the Family Leave Insurance provision of the state Temporary Disability Benefits Law, as well as oblige health care providers and medical institutions to explain the program to patients with conditions that would likely entitle them to take paid temporary family leave, such as pregnancy.

Buono referenced an August 2012 Rutgers-Eagleton poll that found roughly 60 percent of approximately 900 registered voters surveyed said they have not "seen or heard anything about" New Jersey's family leave insurance program, even though the law entitling employees to the paid leave went into effect in July 2009.

Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said she is "concerned (Buono's bill) won't achieve its intended objective and cause more administrative burdens for employers."

"We are never opposed to employees understanding their rights, but the notification process is cumbersome for employees and employers alike, as they're subject to 15 separate state and federal notice requirements — which doesn't count the four notices already required under state law that this bill addresses," Riehl said in her testimony today. "It's information overload, and sometimes employees are not paying as much attention as they should, or they just don't recall their rights when they need them. It's very complicated for employees and employers, as well."

Riehl said the state should instead post explanations of all employee leave programs and benefits on a centralized website that New Jersey businesses and workers can access at anytime.

At the committee hearing, Buono said one of the reasons the 2009 law has not been effective is because the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development has not completed any outreach programs to inform workers and employers about it, which she said is something the new bill would enforce.

While nearly one in five respondents indicated they had taken temporary leave for pregnancy, bonding with a new child or caring for a family member with a serious illness between July 2009 and August 2012, fewer than half of them had received pay or compensation during that time, according to the Rutgers-Eagleton poll.

Under the Family Leave Insurance provision, both women and men are eligible for six weeks of partial wage replacement up to 12 months after a birth or adoption, or at any time during the care of a seriously ill family member. Since the family leave benefits are self-funded through payroll deductions, the program is implemented at no cost to employers or the state.

The concept of the family leave insurance program seems popular, according to the Rutgers-Eagleton survey, which found more than three quarters of respondents had a favorable opinion about it after it was briefly described to them during the polling.

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