Abstract: Supports and Barriers to Using New Jersey Family Leave Insurance: Perspectives from Employees, Employers, Advocates, and State Agencies (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Supports and Barriers to Using New Jersey Family Leave Insurance: Perspectives from Employees, Employers, Advocates, and State Agencies

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Dupont Circle, ML 3 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Rebecca Logue-Conroy, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Background: New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance (FLI) policy was enacted in 2008, with length of leave and wage replacement increased in 2020. This paper investigates the impacts of leave for workers and families, the extent of knowledge of leave policy among employers and employees, and supports and barriers to leave encountered by workers—all factors central to patterns of actual leave-taking and thus the promise of family leave policy.

Methods: Twenty-five semi-structured interviews and one focus group were conducted with policy advocates, funders, employers, employees and state administrators. Employee participants were recruited through a Facebook group while purposive sampling was used to recruit employers, advocates, and state administrators. Employees included lower wage hourly workers and salaried workers who took leave for childbirth, bonding with a new child, and/or care for an older child. The sample of employees identified as 100% female, 44% Black, 22% white, 22% Latinx, and 11% mixed race. Employers included HR personnel while policy advocates and funders were selected from among entities that had some stake in family leave policy, maternal and infant health, or support for sick family members. Interview transcripts were analyzed using content analysis and codes were assessed for common themes.

Results: Employees who took leave for childbirth and bonding expressed that the leave they took at the birth of their child allowed them to recover physically from childbirth and establish breastfeeding. Lower wage employees who had taken leave prior to changes in the policy and again after the changes explained that the new provisions allowed them to take a longer leave because they were better able to budget for the leave at the higher wage replacement. Interviewees across groups noted that gender differences in workplace culture and support either discouraged fathers from taking leave or resulted in retaliatory action by employers when leave for bonding was requested or taken by fathers. Additionally, interviewees across groups noted that some employers’ and employees’ knowledge of types of leave and leave benefits was limited and kept employees from requesting or taking the leave to which they were entitled. Finally, interviewees noted that there was less knowledge of leave for issues outside of childbirth—like mental health, cancer, or childhood illnesses.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings highlight the importance of employer and employee education about policy provisions even long after a policy is enacted, and adjustments should be made to the policy as it is assessed over time. In addition, barriers to leave such as workplace culture and employer knowledge of benefits should be addressed through advocacy, through information on the state website, and through enforcement against retaliation. Information about paid leave should be included in any place where a potential leave-taker would need it including childcare centers, hospices, doctors’ offices, and workplaces. In sum, the findings will inform state administrators and advocacy groups about how they may more successfully promote FLI and increase uptake, especially among lower-income workers and workers who do not typically take long leaves like non-birthing parents or those caring for ill family members.