What are my obligations to employees during COVID-19?
Employers are required to follow pre-existing State & Federal worker protection and labor laws as outlined by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL), as well as new laws related to COVID-19. Use the NJDOL Benefits Eligibility Tool to help your employees determine what benefits are available to them.
On March 20, 2020, Governor Murphy signed N.J.B.A.C. 12:70 on COVID-19 Related Discrimination, a law that prohibits an employer -- during the ongoing Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency -- from terminating or refusing to reinstate an employee who has, or is likely to have, an infectious disease which requires the employee to miss time at work.
An employee who requests or takes time off from work, based on the recommendation of a medical professional, may not be terminated or refused reinstatement if the employee is likely to infect others in the workplace.
Discrimination and Harassment Protection
Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), employees are also protected from discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, disability, and other protected characteristics in employment, housing, and places open to the public, including businesses, schools, medical providers, etc., including when the conduct at issue is related to COVID-19.
Workplace Hazard Protection
Under federal OSHA law, employers must protect workers from workplace hazards that can cause illness or injury, provide required personal protective equipment (PPE), and ensure its use. It's also against NJ Wage and Hour law for an employer to deduct the cost of protective equipment from an employee's pay.
Social distancing is not required for most workplaces, however businesses are encouraged to follow CDC safety guidelines and social distancing to save lives and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additional safety protocols include but are not limited to;
- Providing gloves or masks if your business requires employers to wear them;
- Immediately separating and sending home workers who appear to have COVID-19 symptoms
- Promptly notifying workers of any known exposure to COVID-19, subject to confidentiality requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Cleaning and disinfecting the worksite in accordance with CDC guidelines when a worker has been diagnosed with COVID-19
- Continuing to follow all guidelines and directives issued by the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), the CDC, and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) for maintaining a clean, safe and healthy work environment
If an employee needs time off from work to test or quarantine, or because they’re high risk, they could be eligible for employer-paid and/or state cash benefits. These include NJ Earned Sick Leave, Federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave, Temporary Disability Insurance benefits, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.
If an employee needs time off to care for a loved one with COVID-19, they may also be protected. Applicable benefits may include the NJ Family Leave Act, NJ Family Leave Insurance benefits, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.
If an employee can’t work because their children are in mandatory remote learning school programs they may have remote learning benefits and protections.
Additional resources: To learn more about COVID-19 and the workplace visit the NJ Department of Labor. Employers looking for resources should make use of several programs including the Shared-Work Program, an alternative to layoffs, the NJDOL eligibility tool, nj.gov/labor, and myleavebenefits.nj.gov.
Employees with questions about their benefits and protections should visit getstarted.nj.gov