Americans are facing numerous challenges related to the global pandemic, but one of the biggest concerns is about their job stability. People who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 fear that calling in sick might result in them losing their job. Fortunately, the state of New Jersey has taken specific, explicit action to protect workers against COVID-19-related employment discrimination.
Governor Phil Murphy has added on to his original Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency, not only extending it through May 8th, 2020 but also signing New Jersey Assembly Bill 3848 to protect and provide solutions for any employees who are infected with COVID-19 or who might be infected with it and who need to stop working as a result.
The new law, which took effect immediately, forbids employers from firing an employee who is likely to have an infectious disease that requires them to miss work. The law also protects those who might have an infectious disease, protecting them from penalty for asking to take this type of “protected leave” as well as from retaliation.
THE DEFINITION OF ‘PROTECTED LEAVE'
Under the newly signed law, ‘protected leave’ requires a recommendation from a medical professional licensed in New Jersey. It must be submitted either in written form or electronically transmitted and must indicate how long the employee needs to be away from work in order to protect co-workers from also being infected in the workplace. Not only does the law require that the leave be provided, but also that when they return after their protected leave period, they be restored to the same position they held before. There can be no cut in benefits or pay, no reduction in seniority or status —all of the terms and conditions of their employment must remain as it had been prior to the protected leave.
The only exception to this rule is where there is a job action that is not related to the protected leave, such as if the employer reduces their work force in a way that would have affected the employee whether they asked for leave or not. This includes bona fide layoff and job actions that occur under a collective bargaining agreement that specifically would have precluded reinstatement.
If your request for protected leave is denied, or if you take a protected leave that is in compliance with the law and find that you have been fired, demoted or in some other way penalized as a result of your request, you need to file a complaint with the Commissioner of the department of Labor and Workforce Development describing what happened to you. A hearing will be held by a Wage Collection Referee in response to each complaint with the potential for witnesses to be subpoenaed and the employer summoned in order to provide testimony under oath. The referee will be empowered to make decisions and issue remedies, including penalties of $2,500 against the employer for each violation. These hearings may be conducted remotely, via phone or video conferencing, and may include submission of evidence electronically.
If you have been told to stay away from work due to diagnosis or potential diagnosis with an infectious disease, you need to be able to listen to your doctor’s advice. If your employer does not comply with this request or penalizes you as a result of the request, you have rights. Contact us today to learn how we can help.