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Goodbye, Mask Mandate, Hello, Summer!

By:  Jennifer Vorih, Esq., and Ty Hyderally, Esq.

On May 24, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will be dropping several mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many of these changes go into effect Friday, May 28, 2021, and others will take effect June 4, 2021.

As of May 28, New Jersey no longer has a mask mandate in indoor public spaces. However, masks will still be required in health care settings, offices, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and public transportation. The lifting of this mandate does not ease the restrictions on childcare, youth summer camps, preschools, nor elementary and secondary schools.  Nor are indoor worksites which are not open to the public affected by this announcement.  Masks are still required in state offices such as Motor Vehicle Commission offices. 

Further, the State no longer mandates that people maintain social distance of 6-feet in indoor businesses.  This includes venues such as gyms, retail stores, casinos, among many others.

The ban against ordering, eating and drinking while standing in bars and restaurants is also lifted, as of May 28. 

As of June 4, the State is lifting several limits regarding the size of indoor events.

While the State of New Jersey is no longer mandating that masks be worn in various indoor spaces, nor that social distancing be maintained, employers are free to require that their employees, customers, and/or guests wear masks and/or maintain social distancing.  

This leaves room for a multitude of potential conflicts, between employers and employees, between employees and customers, and even between employers and customers.  Over the past year, we have seen many, many employees pitted against customers, attempting to enforce their employers’ requirements that customers wear masks inside stores, for instance.  That scenario will probably continue to play out occasionally, but there are other possible conflicts between employers and employees.  For example, we can anticipate that many employers will want to fling open their doors and pretend that the pandemic never happened and is not still continuing, and so will ban their employees from wearing masks, and force their employees to work in close proximity to other employees and to customers. 

What rights to employees have in our reopening process? 

  • Can employers dictate that that employees do NOT wear masks?  Some employers would frame this as a dress code, and argue that they can require no masks just as much as they can require black pants and white shirts.  But at least for some employees, wearing a mask is not a fashion statement nor even a political one, but a decision regarding their healthcare.  We certainly hope that as we attempt to return to something resembling pre-pandemic normalcy, that employees will be allowed to make basic decisions about protecting their health and their families’ health.
  • Can employers force employees to work closely together, indoors? Employers have limited work space available, and need to maximize productivity.  However, that need must be balanced with employees’ need to work without contracting COVID-19.  We can hope that employers will keep in mind that an unhealthy workforce is not a productive workforce. 

As we work toward reopening New Jersey, it will be very interesting to see how all of the potential conflicts play out, and to what extent employers and employees are able to work together to resolve them. 

En nuestra firma hablamos español. 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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