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Essential Employees Are Further Protected In New Jersey

By: Lía Fiol-Matta, Esq. and Ty Hyderally, Esq.

In the wake of the current pandemic, Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey has signed 24 executive orders regarding the coronavirus, including ones that created a task force, closed schools, moved elections, mandated social distancing, ordered residents to stay home, provided measures to protect health care workers, and closed state and county parks. In his Executive Order No. 125 of April 11, 2020, Gov. Murphy ordered all residents to wear masks in grocery stores as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to climb. He also is now requiring customers entering restaurants and bars for takeout food to wear face coverings. These restrictions are part of an effort to decrease the spread of coronavirus in some of the few businesses that remain open in the state.

In addition, all essential retail stores will only be permitted to allow up to 50 percent of their approved capacity inside in order to reduce overcrowding. All customers and employees are required to wear face coverings while inside the store, and businesses must supply employees with masks, coverings and gloves. If you are an essential worker in a retail store, you have the right to request these protections, if not already provided.

Gov. Murphy’s latest Order also mandates face masks on New Jersey Transit (“NJT”) to reduce the spread of COVID 19. It requires both riders and transit workers to wear cloth face coverings when on NJT buses and trains. The Order applies to NJT as well as to its contractors. NJT must provide workers with cloth face coverings, limit the number of passengers to 50 percent of vehicle capacity as a social distancing measure, board buses through the back door when possible, and provide drivers with added social distance by removing seats at the front of vehicles when possible. If you are employed by NJT, you must be provided a face mask or covering.

In addition, the Executive Order calls for contactless pay options across all modes of transportation where feasible, continued sanitization of high touch areas and signage communicating and encouraging six feet of separation between individuals, measures taken to protect riders as well as essential transit workers.

What happens, though, if you are an essential employee in New Jersey and your employer fails to comply with Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order? For instance, can you complain if you are a grocery store worker and customers are allowed to enter the store and shop without masks or face coverings? Or if you work at a restaurant and your employer instructs you to give takeout orders to customers who are not wearing face coverings? Can you refuse to do so?

In New Jersey, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N. J. Stat. Ann. § 34:19-1 et. seq. (“CEPA”), is a whistleblowing law that protects employees from retaliation such as being disciplined, fired, demoted, passed up for a promotion or harassed because they complained about or objected to an employer practice that they reasonably believed violated the law. In this regard, an essential employee who believes they are at risk of becoming infected with COVID 19 because their employer is not following the protective measures of Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order 125 are protected from an adverse employment action the employer may take after the employee has complained or “blown the whistle” on the employer’s violation. An employee in such a situation is encouraged to seek the advice of an experienced employment lawyer.

This blog is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice, and may not reasonably be relied upon as such. If you face a legal issue, you should consult a qualified attorney for independent legal advice with regard to your particular set of facts. This blog may constitute attorney advertising. This blog is not intended to communicate with anyone in a state or other jurisdiction where such a blog may fail to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state of jurisdiction.

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