State and Federal Employment Laws Protecting Workers During This Time

Millions of American workers are currently collecting unemployment benefits as a result of the global pandemic. If you’re one of them, you’ve likely spent the last several weeks experiencing extremely mixed emotions, torn between wanting to stay safely in your home and wanting to get back to your job. The crisis that COVID-19 has introduced to our country has caused significant fear, sickness and death, creating multiple reasons for people to be hesitant or unable to go back. In some cases not returning to work is acceptable, and won’t jeopardize receiving unemployment benefits, while in others that is not the case. Knowing the different laws governing unemployment and returning to work after COVID-19 will help you understand your rights and what to expect.

Generally speaking unemployment insurance benefits are withdrawn if you reject a work offer from your former employer that is similar in responsibility, title, hours and pay to what you’ve previously done. New Jersey employers are required to contact the state’s Division of Unemployment Compensation within 48 hours of you not returning to work. The only exception to this is if you have a good, work-related reason for rejecting the offer. Those reasons that qualify are detailed in the different laws that apply to working, including:

  • Federal CARES Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. This program permits workers to continue collecting unemployment benefits under four specific circumstances, including:
  • If you are a family member have been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • If you are providing care for a person in your household or a family member who is either showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • If you have a child or are primary caregiver of a child who can’t go to school because the school is closed.
  • If you are in a vulnerable category that makes returning to work risky for you.
  • New Jersey Law Against Discrimination/Federal Americans with Disabilities Act Both of these programs include protections that apply to the circumstances being experienced during the global pandemic, including the requirement that an employer makes reasonable requests for accommodations for those whose comorbidities make them particularly vulnerable and protections for those asking for extra sick days or medical leave to take care of yourself or a family member. Keep in mind that if you are going to avail yourself of these protections and request an accommodation, you may be required to provide proof from your physician indicating your medical need for isolation.
  • New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Act. This law permits workers who have accrued sick time to use it to recover from COVID-19 themselves, to care for a family member with the virus, to comply with a quarantine order, to take care of their child whose school is closed due to the virus, or who is fearful of being exposed to COVID-19 to such a great degree that it creates a debilitating level of stress and anxiety that has been diagnosed by a mental health care professional or physician.
  • New Jersey Family Leave Act/Federal Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. Both permit employees to use leave to recover from COVID-19 as well as to provide care for a family member with the disease and/or to care for their child whose school has been closed as a result of the pandemic.
  • Federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. Permits workers to receive a maximum of 80 hours of pay when ordered to quarantine or self-isolate based on experiencing symptoms of coronavirus and needing a medical diagnosis.

If you have been denied equal rights under the law or have been denied unemployment benefits in the state of New Jersey, we can help. Contact us today to speak with one of our attorneys about your situation.

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