The New Jersey Legislature and Governor Phil Murphy recently took action in response to COVID-19 and have enacted and/or are considering passage of several measures. The following is an up to date synopsis of these actions:
- Perceived Coronavirus Symptoms: Under guidance recently issued by the New Jersey Attorney General and the Division on Civil Rights, New Jersey employers are barred under state law from terminating or otherwise penalizing an employee based on perceived coronavirus symptoms, and they must take reasonable action to stop related harassment between employees. The Division on Civil Rights issued a guidance indicating that discrimination based upon actual or perceived symptoms of COVID-19 is protected by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. See the Division on Civil Rights Guidance for more information: https://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases20/202020318-NJ_DCR_FAQs_on_COVID-19_Final.pdf.
- Terminations due to Coronavirus Prohibited: Under legislation recently signed into law, P.L.2020, c.9, (A3848) employers are prohibited during the state of emergency and public health emergency from firing or penalizing a worker who requests or takes time off because the employee has or is likely to have an infectious disease. The employer also would be barred from refusing to reinstate the worker to his or her previous position. In order to be protected by the new law, the employee must have a written or electronic recommendation from a licensed medical professional that the employee take time off for a specified period of time because the employee has, or is likely to have, an infectious disease, as defined in section 2 of P.L.2005, c.222 (C.26:13-2), which may infect others at the employee’s workplace. Employers who are found to have violated this provision are subject to $2,500 fines for each violation of the act. This law applies to all employers.
- Expanded Temporary Disability and Family Leave: Under legislation recently signed into law, P.L.2020, c.17., (S2304), New Jersey's State Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) and Family Leave Insurance (FLI) programs have been expanded to provide broader access to the programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new law expands the definition of a “serious health condition” to allow individuals access to TDI and FLI benefits during a public health emergency if they must take time off of from work because they are diagnosed with or suspected of exposure to a communicable disease or to take care of a family member diagnosed with or suspected of exposure to a communicable disease. Employees eligible for these benefits under the NJ Family Leave Act (TDI or FLI) must be employed by a qualifying employer that employed 30 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the then current or immediately preceding calendar year on or after June 30, 2019. The legislation also expands New Jersey’s earned sick leave law to permit the use of earned sick time for isolation or quarantine recommended or ordered by a provider or public health official as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease, or to care for a family member under recommended or ordered isolation or quarantine. The sick leave expansion applies to all employers.
- Temporary Lost Wage Unemployment Program: Under Legislation approved by both houses of the New Jersey Legislature, but not yet signed into law, A3846, would create the “Temporary Lost Wage Unemployment Program” to help people affected by the pandemic to recoup their lost wages and to assist employers that pay workers who are ordered under quarantine as a result of the coronavirus. If enacted, the legislation would fully compensate individuals for actual lost wages as a result of coronavirus disease 2019 due to: (a) the individual’s absence from work due to the need to care for a family member; (b) the individual’s absence from work due to the illness of the individual; (c) the individual’s absence from work due to a school or childcare facility being closed; and (d) for such other purposes as determined by the commissioner. In addition, funds would be made available to employers who pay wages to workers who are ordered under quarantine by a licensed healthcare practitioner as a result of the 2019 coronavirus disease.
- Grants for NJ Businesses: Under legislation recently signed into law, P.L.2020, c.8. (A3845), the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) is authorized to provide grants during periods of emergency declared by the Governor, such as the declaration regarding the Coronavirus disease 2019, and for the duration of economic disruptions due to the emergency. The legislation gives the EDA the power to offer grants for the planning, designing, acquiring, constructing, reconstructing, improving, equipping, and furnishing of a project, including, but not limited to, grants for working capital and meeting payroll requirements, upon such terms and conditions as the authority deems reasonable, during such period of time. The legislation also extends the uses of the economic growth account in the Economic Recovery Fund to the planning, designing, acquiring, constructing, reconstructing, improving, equipping, and furnishing by small and medium-size businesses and not-for-profit corporations of certain projects, including, but not limited to, grants for working capital and meeting payroll requirements, upon such terms and conditions as the authority deems reasonable, during such periods of time.
- Statewide Stay at Home Order: Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 107 into law which requires the closure of all non-essential brick and mortar retail businesses. Additionally, the order mandates that all businesses or non-profits, wherever practicable, must accommodate their workforce for telework or work-from-home arrangements. To the extent a business or non-profit has employees that cannot perform their functions via telework or work-from-home arrangements, the business or non-profit should make best efforts to reduce staff on site to the minimal number necessary to ensure that essential operations can continue. The Order further requires New Jersey residents to stay in their homes unless they are engaged in activities expressly permitted under the Order, including but not limited to obtaining goods and services from essential retail business, reporting to or performing their job, acting as a caretaker for family or close friends, or seeking medical attention. When in public, residents must practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others. For a complete list of essential retail businesses and the full text of the Order see: https://nj.gov/infobank/eo/056murphy/pdf/EO-107.pdf.