Eagle-eyed New Jersey workers may notice slightly smaller paychecks come Jan. 1.

That's when payroll deductions for the state's new paid-family-leave law will begin, although workers won't be able to begin taking leaves until July 1.

New Jersey's family-leave law will allow most workers to take up to six weeks of paid leave to care for sick family members, newborns or newly adopted children. Federal law requires employers with 50 or more employees to give workers who meet certain criteria up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

New Jersey was only the third state in the nation to adopt paid family leave, although the benefit is almost universal among industrialized nations worldwide. In the United States, California is the only other state that offers paid leave; Washington has passed a paid-family-leave law but it is not yet in effect.

Gov. Corzine signed the bill into law in May, more than a decade after supporters started pushing for the benefit. At the bill-signing, Corzine, who has supported paid family leave since he was a U.S. senator, talked about how his near-fatal car accident reinforced to him the importance of paid family leave.

"I believe the daily reality of the lives of New Jersey families makes this historic law necessary," Corzine said at the time. "I am confident this self-funded family insurance program will improve family life, fill a gap in our social contract with our citizens and attract workers to this state."

But critics of the bill, including much of the state's business community, argued the timing was bad. And since the bill was signed into law last spring, the economic weather has deteriorated from a drizzle to a downpour.

"We can't think of a worse time to implement a huge new mandate on employers and taking additional taxes from employees," said Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

Kirschner said business owners worry about the cost of finding replacements for people taking leaves.

"In this economy, you have to be in the top of the game for whatever clients you still have," Kirschner said. "A drop in productivity when there's somebody pinch-hitting for people who are out on leave . . . really, in this economy, is a further obstacle for employers to keep and retain clients and to limit their costs."

Assemblywoman Dawn Marie Addiego and Assemblyman Scott Rudder, both Burlington County Republicans, introduced a bill to delay the implementation of paid family leave by two years because of the economic climate.

"We need to make sure that we have businesses and jobs for people to have family leave from," said Addiego. She said she believes the concept of paid family leave is a good one, but that she was not convinced New Jersey was implementing it in the right way.

Addiego said small-business owners, in particular, are worried about the law's potential impact. She is also worried that if more people take paid leave than estimated by the state, taxpayers will end up paying for the program.

Under New Jersey's family-leave law, employers must withhold .09 percent of a worker's paycheck in 2009 and .12 percent in 2010 and beyond. Workers are eligible to receive two-thirds of their regular wages, up to $524 per week, during their leaves. In 2010, the deduction would amount to about $33 per worker per year, or about 25 cents a week for a minimum-wage worker. Employers do not directly contribute to the program.

Employers may require employees to use up to two weeks of paid sick days, vacation time or other leave.

For more information on New Jersey's paid family leave, go to:

» READ MORE: http://lwd.state.nj.us/labor/fli/content/fli_fact_sheet.html