What New Jersey Employees Need to Know About Coronavirus and their Rights

The entire country is being faced with the coronavirus and the issues and concerns surrounding it. One of the most pressing issues is the way that it will affect workers. New Jersey residents are being encouraged to practice social distancing and businesses are being asked to permit employees to telecommute where possible. For those whose work environment allows that type of flexibility, the biggest challenge will be self-discipline and getting used to the lack of direct engagement with colleagues. But for employees of businesses that are being shut down or suffering slowdowns as a result of the virus, as well as those affected by their own illness or needing to care for family members, the stress of this situation presents an entirely different dynamic.

As a law firm specializing in workplace issues, we know that New Jersey employees have questions and that they need answers fast. Here is the information you need, broken down into simple categories to help you cut through the clutter.

State Employees – If you are a state worker, you are not required to use your accrued paid sick leave if you miss work because you were diagnosed with coronavirus or exposed to it and told you should stay home. You also do not need to use your sick leave or paid time off if your children’s school is closed and you need to stay home to watch them.

Employees of Private Businesses – Every employer is free to offer their employees specific flexible work opportunities or benefits, but you cannot count on that happening. The good news is that there are certain protections that New Jersey law provides for workers. These include:

  • The ability to use their earned paid sick leave if they are sick themselves, as well as if their workplace is closed due to a public health emergency of if they need to care for family members. (This rule does not apply to per diem hospital healthcare workers, pubic employees who already receive sick pay, or unionized construction workers.)

Earned sick leave accrues (by law) at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, though companies can advance the time. If they do not advance the time, it can start to be used after 120 days. Up to 40 hours of accrued, earned paid sick time can be carried over from one year to the next.

If you personally test positive for the coronavirus after contracting it outside of work and need to use earned sick leave, your first step should be to apply for temporary disability insurance by filing a claim online at www.myleavebenefits.nj.gov. Your physician or healthcare provider will need to provide confirmation and additional information about your diagnosis.

If you personally test positive for the coronavirus after contracting it at work and need to use earned sick leave, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation.

  • Employees who work for companies with 30 or more employees can take up to six weeks of paid time off to care for a sick family member. This time off will be paid at a rate of two-thirds of their regular paycheck up to a maximum of $667 per week. Effective July 1st of this year, that amount of time will double to 12 weeks and compensation will expand to 85%, or a maximum of $881 per week.

This law defines those for whom care is being provided as including parents, spouses or civil union partners, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, parents-in-law, any blood relative or someone considered the "equivalent" of family. It does not include staying home to care for yourself, and you must have worked with your employer for at least one year.

In addition to the above-referenced New Jersey state law, federal law permits up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave either to attend to one’s own illness or a family member’s illness.

  • Some employees will be told that they can no longer work because their employer believes that they are at risk for the virus, because their workplace shuts down because of the virus, or because they have been told to self-quarantine. If you find yourself in any of these circumstances, here’s what you should do:
  • If you’re sent home because of possible exposure and you are not being paid, your situation is considered a temporary layoff and you can apply for unemployment benefits at myunemployment.nj.gov.
  • If you’ve been told to self-quarantine you can either use earned sick leave or apply for temporary disability.
  • If your work hours have been reduced to less than 80% of your normal hours, you may be eligible for partial unemployment benefits.

During these challenging times, understanding, cooperation and patience are highly valued but not always present. If you need to take advantage of state-protected benefits and encounter difficulties in doing so, we can help. Contact Schorr & Associates at 856.874.9090 or email info@schorrlaw.com for immediate assistance.

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