In the past six months, a major new workplace safety concern has emerged: contracting COVID-19. While some businesses have been able to shift their work online, millions of workers must continue to work in-person in a variety of jobs, from schoolteachers to trash collectors to restaurant workers.
Since the pandemic reached the U.S. in March, there have been reports from across the country of workers getting fired or otherwise retaliated against after raising COVID-19 safety concerns or requesting time off due to falling ill from COVID-19. New Jersey has the most documented coronavirus-related workplace whistleblower/retaliation lawsuits out of any state. As of August 26, 2020, workers had filed 19 such lawsuits related to COVID-19.
The whistleblower and retaliation lawsuits filed in New Jersey have included employees from a diverse array of workplaces, such as fast-food restaurants, retailers, and healthcare centers. For example, two New Jersey nursing home workers sued Alaris Health after the nursing home operator allegedly fired them after they raised safety concerns, and a former Walmart employee said she was fired after she raised concerns that the retailer wasn’t enforcing social distancing requirements and customer capacity limits.
How Whistleblower Protections Apply in New Jersey During COVID-19
New Jersey has strong whistleblower protection laws that apply to workers who raise COVID-19 safety concerns. The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act has a reputation as one of the most pro-employee whistleblower laws in the country.
The law protects whistleblowers from retaliation from their employer in the event that the employee discloses, complains, objects to, or refuses to partake in certain activities in a work environment because of a reasonable belief that the activity is illegal, against public policy, or improper in terms of patient care, if the employee is a healthcare worker. Retaliation can take many forms, including demotion, suspension, termination, or other actions that would discourage an employee from taking a whistleblowing action.
In addition to New Jersey’s longstanding whistleblower protection law, Governor Phil Murphy issued Executive Order No. 107 in March that gave additional legal protection to COVID-19 whistleblowers. This executive order placed requirements upon how businesses can safely operate during the pandemic, such as social distancing requirements. Employees who are retaliated against after reporting violations of this Executive Order may be protected by anti-retaliation law.
Additionally, Governor Murphy signed anti-retaliation legislation that prohibits employers from penalizing, demoting, or terminating employees who request or take time off based on the advice of a medical professional who believes that the employee may have COVID-19.
Contact a COVID-19 Employment Law Attorney
A COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event that has created widespread stress, and many workers are struggling to navigate how to safely continue to make a living. Unfortunately, many employees in New Jersey who have taken steps to protect themselves and their community against the spread of the disease by making whistleblower reports of unsafe conditions, or requesting time off due to illness, have been retaliated against.
New Jersey has protections in place to guard against such retaliation. Contact an experienced whistleblower/retaliation attorney from The Law Firm of Morgan Rooks, P.C. today at (856) 746-6332 to schedule a consultation.