In 2020, the coronavirus took the world by storm, affecting millions and having a tremendous impact on virtually every segment of society. Now, as New Jersey and other states transition back to a more open economy, many employers are grappling with what their new workplace will look like, what new legal rights their employees have, and how they can mitigate pandemic-related risk.
One of the most important parts of a comeback strategy will be to successfully evolve your business in both practice and documentation. Change will be felt across the organization and employees will need clear information on the latest policy changes including:
- cleanliness standards
- employee interactions with each other, with customers, with visitors
- remote work policies
- health standards, health testing, and protocols
A post-pandemic workplace comeback naturally leaves senior management struggling with the host of issues regarding what protocols they can – and cannot – enforce on employees. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, legal counsel can invaluable in guiding you based on your particular situation.
According to multiple sources including the New Jersey Dept. of Labor and the United States Dept. of Labor, employers are generally within their rights to:
- Require that an employee receive the COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to the workplace. This holds true unless the employee cannot get the vaccine because of a disability, because their doctor has advised them not to get the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding, or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.
- Ask employees to go home if they become ill during the workday and encourage sick employees to stay home.
- Require employees to wear personal protective equipment such as facemasks when necessary. Be mindful, however, that businesses must adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act guidance. The EEOC (www.eeoc.gov) has provided guidance entitled Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act that can help employers implement strategies to navigate the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace.
- Terminate an employee for not following coronavirus safety guidelines. This is particularly true if there are specific, written company policies in place that the employee has signed. If they are in violation of those policies, New Jersey state law and your legal counsel can advise if you have grounds for termination.
- Requiring staff to return to their place of work versus working remotely: Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, published by the U.S. Department of Labor (www.dol.gov), employers must provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave if they can’t work because they have symptoms of COVID-19, are quarantined, or have to care for a child when schools and day-care centers are closed. Additionally, if any employee is in a high-risk category, they will need to obtain a note from a health professional and request more adequate work accommodations.
- Disclosing employee test results to staff: Unless an employee has been in contact with staff members while they were infected, employers may not disclose test results (positive or negative) of staff members who tested positive for COVID-19.
- Prohibit staff from traveling: Employers may not prohibit staff members from traveling for personal reasons, but they may require staffers undergo self-isolation before returning to work if they have traveled to areas of concern.
- Business travel: There is no definitive answer for this issue, however employers should be cautious regarding work-related travel and make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Weiner Law Group: Helping you avoid litigation pitfalls
By staying ahead of the curve, the experienced attorneys at Weiner Law Group are poised to anticipate potential discrimination claims that could arise from office re-openings, changing work arrangements, and the impacts of the pandemic on individuals in protected classes. Our goal is to ensure that your business remains in compliance with state and local laws. Weiner Law Group is an AV-Rated firm representing New Jersey businesses and their owners, as well as non-profits and public entities in all aspects of corporate law. Contact us for more information or to arrange for a consultation.