On March 20, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Assembly Bill No. A3848 prohibiting employers from terminating, demoting or otherwise penalizing an employee for requesting or taking time off from work in connection with an infectious disease during the Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency declared in Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 103.
The employee’s request for time off should be triggered by a written or electronically transmitted recommendation of a medical professional licensed to practice in the State of New Jersey. In addition, a medical professional may recommend that the employee take time off, not only because they have been diagnosed with an infectious disease, but also if the employee is “likely to have” an infectious disease prone to infect others in the workplace. This provision of the new law is particularly broad as it not only protects employees diagnosed with COVID-19, but also those who have been exposed to the virus, regardless of whether they have tested positive.
The new law defines Infectious Disease as, “a disease caused by a living organism or other pathogen, including a fungus, bacteria, parasite, protozoan, virus or prion. An infectious disease may, or may not, be transmissible from person to person, animal to person, or insect to person.” To further prove its wide-ranging applicability, the law is not limited to COVID-19 related absences from work, but rather all infectious diseases as described above.
The new law further provides that at the end of the employee’s requested time off, an employer must reinstate the employee to the same position held when the leave commenced. Accordingly, an employer is prohibited from reducing the employee’s seniority, status, employment benefits, pay and other terms and conditions of employment due to the employee’s request for time off under this law.
If an employee thinks that their rights have been violated, the employee may file a complaint with the Commission of Labor and Workforce Development or initiate an action in a court of competent jurisdiction. Successful employees are entitled to relief in the form of reinstatement to the previously held position with no reduction in seniority, status, employment benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers who violate this law may be subject to a $2,500.00 fine for each violation.
In an overwhelmingly short period of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused detrimental effects on almost every aspect of life. Unfortunately, businesses nationwide have suffered immense consequences as a result of the directives imposed by federal and state government in efforts to combat the effects of the virus. Now more than ever, it is imperative that employers stay informed regarding the ever changing laws and mandates that affect their businesses.
To explore strategies on how your business can navigate the new legal changes surrounding COVID-19, please contact Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Partner and Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Counseling & Compliance Practice Group or Sharina Rodriguez, Esq., Associate in the firm’s Employment Law & Litigation Practice Group and Human Resources Counseling & Compliance Practice Group.