State employees can donate unused time off to a co-worker who has exhausted all their own allotted leave in New Jersey under an existing employment regulation, but now lawmakers want to see that longstanding policy become codified as a matter of law.
The state’s donated-leave policy has won praise for fostering an atmosphere of teamwork among government workers since it gives co-workers a way to directly support colleagues who are fighting a significant illness or are caring for a seriously ill family member.
The legislation seeking to make the employment policy permanent through law would also make it easier to donate unused sick and vacation days to pregnant co-workers who may require lengthy absences from work. It was easily passed by the state Senate last week.
“This bill codifies a process that allows state employees to help one another by donating time to colleagues who are facing either a catastrophic event like a severe health crisis affecting themselves or a family member or being able to donate time to a pregnant employee who needs more leave than the norm,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, the legislation’s primary sponsor.
Easier with a Democrat as governor
Weinberg (D-Bergen) has been trying for years to convert the state’s donated-leave policy into an irreversible law. But this year’s try appears to have more momentum as Democrats who control the Legislature have already found common ground with Gov. Phil Murphy, a first-term Democrat, on several other efforts at making state labor laws more progressive. They include Murphy’s enactment earlier this year of new laws establishing wide-ranging gender pay-equity and earned sick-leave rules. An expanded paid family-leave program could also be adopted later this year under a bill that’s currently moving through the Legislature.
Under the state’s existing donated-leave policy — which was established as a rule by the state Civil Service Commission — an employee is eligible to receive donated leave from a co-worker if they’ve already exhausted all their accrued sick and vacation time and administrative leave. While the rule applies only to state-government workers, a donated-leave program can also be established at the local level if government leaders receive permission from the commission, according to the employment regulation.
Under the proposed legislation, state workers would have to have at least one year of continuous service with the state government to be eligible to receive donated leave. Other qualifications to be eligible for a leave donation include suffering from a catastrophic health condition or injury; being in the midst of providing long-term care to a family member suffering from a catastrophic health condition or injury; or being required to take an extended absence due to the donation of an organ, the bill says.
Workers at all levels of government can benefit from the program, including rank-and-file employees, senior executives, and those serving in unclassified positions. There appear to be no restrictions on which groups of employees can share with each other, or major differences in their pay levels to prevent a leave donation from occurring. An employee could receive up to 260 donated sick or vacation days in total, but no more than 30 days from one co-worker, according to the bill.
Disqualifiers — lateness or chronic absenteeism
Workers making a leave donation must have at least 20 days of accrued sick leave and 12 days of accrued vacation after making a donation. And no workers would be eligible for a donation if they’ve been disciplined for lateness or chronic absenteeism within two years of their seeking a leave donation.
In addition to making the leave policy a matter of law, the bill would also change the rules related to leave that can be donated to a pregnant co-worker to make it easier for women to become eligible for a donation. Right now, a woman is not eligible to receive donated leave unless she is required to be out of work for at least 60 days. The bill would change the minimum amount of time needed to qualify for a donation to 30 days.
“The beauty of this bill is it encourages all state employees to see themselves as part of a team, with healthier employees lending needed assistance to colleagues not as fortunate,” said Weinberg, who first introduced a version of the bill in 2015.
The measure cleared the Senate last week by a 33-0 margin, and it now awaits action in the Assembly.