On May 21, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration announced a furlough plan that would have limited impact on most New Jersey public schools.

The state’s Civil Service Commission said Thursday that rules governing an existing voluntary furlough program were relaxed to allow state and local government employers to offer employees voluntary furloughs to avoid layoffs while maintaining their seniority and health benefits. Only nine school districts would benefit from the Murphy plan because they are the only ones that fall under civil service jurisdiction.

Much more impactful is a furlough plan that was approved by both houses of the Legislature on May 15. The legislation, S-2350/A-4132, would facilitate the implementation of temporary job-sharing furlough programs by the state and local governments, including school districts.  The goal of the proposal is to save employers money while also enabling employees to take home more pay than they otherwise would if they continued to work full-time by taking advantage of certain provisions in the federal CARES Act. The bill’s fate is now in the hands of Gov. Murphy, who has not said whether he will sign the legislation.

According to a statement by the Senate Majority Office, the New Jersey Job-Sharing Furlough Program capitalizes on two provisions of the federal CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion economic relief package signed into law on March 27.

The first provides a Federal Pandemic Employment Compensation payment of $600 a week to workers laid off or furloughed during the health crisis. The second provides for 100% federal reimbursement of the cost of state unemployment benefits for any state that enacts a job-sharing furlough program under an existing state law. As New Jersey already has a job-sharing furlough law, which was enacted in 2011, the state qualifies for full federal reimbursement of state unemployment benefits for furloughed workers. Under a job-sharing furlough program, employers would reduce hours for workers who would be eligible for short-term unemployment benefits for their lost hours of work in addition to increased weekly payments provided under the CARES Act through July.

The state and federal laws essentially serve as incentives for employers to place workers on furlough rather than lay them off entirely. The 2011 state job-sharing law applies to both public and private employers, as would this new proposal. If signed into law, the state Division of Unemployment and Temporary Disability Insurance would be required to provide a guidance document to employers that explains the procedures for obtaining approval to establish a job-sharing furlough program.

The NJSBA supports the legislation. As the bill moved through the Legislature, the NJSBA sought and obtained several amendments that explicitly authorize boards of education to implement a job-sharing furlough program. If the furlough program is approved, it would help boards comply with the new law (P.L.2020, c.27) that they continue paying their employees and contracted service providers during the current emergency as if schools were still open.