COVID-19 has forced the indefinite closure of many New Jersey businesses across a wide variety of industries. These closures have had several adverse effects on both business owners and their employees. Many New Jerseyians in the restaurant and entertainment industries have had to miss large amounts of work time and consequently forfeit large amounts of pay. As the crisis continues and the precise end remains just out of sight, people are stuck in tough situations and left extremely worried about their futures. The good news is that some state governments have taken measures to help workers who have been hurt by pandemic closures.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed amendments into state laws that are designed to help affected residents deal with employment challenges and the general uncertainty of the situation. Here is what these amendments to each act are and what they mean to New Jerseyians:
Earned Sick Leave Act
One of the most important amendments made was to the state’s earned sick leave act, which determines when certain employees are allowed to use their earned sick leave. The amendment changed the act to allow employees to use their sick leave for the following new circumstances:
- “A closure of the employee’s workplace, or the school or place of care of a child of the employee, by order of a public official due or because of a state of emergency declared by the Governor due to an epidemic or other public health emergency”
- “The declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor, or the issuance by a public health authority of a determination that the presence in the community of the employee, or a member of the employee’s family in need of care by the employee, would jeopardize the health of others”
- “During a state of emergency declared by the Governor, or upon the recommendation, direction, or order of a healthcare provider or the Commissioner of Health or other authorized public official, the employee undergoes isolation or quarantine, or cares for a family member in quarantine, as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease and a finding by the provider or authority that the presence in the community of the employee or family member would jeopardize the health of others.”
The “state of emergency” referenced in the amendment was enacted by Murphy on March 9 through executive order 103, which means that employees in New Jersey can now use their sick leave for the reasons cited above as well as any other reason described by the act.
In addition to the paid sick leave act, governor Murphy also made several other changes to state law designed to help employees affected by coronavirus closures. One change was to expand the definition of a “serious health condition” observed by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include being forced to quarantine after being exposed to an infectious disease during a state of emergency.
The Governor also signed a law that bans employers from being fired for taking time off if a medical professional declares that they have a contagious disease that could infect others at the workplace. Finally, a law was passed that allows the New Jersey Economic Development Authority more power to issue grants to help more small and medium-sized businesses make payroll and attain more working capital.
These steps taken by New Jersey’s state government will help many struggling employees and businesses that have been impacted by pandemic closures, but these are uncertain times and some employers may already be searching for loopholes in the law’s language. It is highly important for all employees in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to know their rights and contact the right legal counsel if they are being violated. If you want to learn more about employment law in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, contact us today.