The coronavirus pandemic has hit New Jersey harder than most U.S. states, and the economy will surely take some time to recover. The New Jersey Legislature has passed multiple bills in recent months intended to help workers affected by the pandemic. Notable bills include one that modifies the state’s temporary disability insurance system and one that addresses retaliation by employers against quarantined workers. If you feel you may need or have had to take leave from work due to the coronavirus pandemic and have concerns regarding your employment status or benefits, please contact a New Jersey employment attorney as soon as possible.
State of Emergency
Several new laws make changes that only apply during a public health emergency. The governor first declared an emergency in relation to the coronavirus on March 9, 2020. A declaration of emergency expires after thirty days unless extended by the governor. He has extended the March 9 declaration twice so far, on April 7 and May 6.
Temporary Disability Insurance
The New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law (TDBL) provides disability coverage for workers who are unable to work because of “an accident or sickness” that is not due to an on-the-job incident, and which is not otherwise covered by the state’s workers’ compensation law. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 43:21-29. It also allows “family temporary disability leave” for a worker who must care for a family member with a “serious health condition,” defined to include conditions requiring inpatient care or other ongoing medical care. Id. at §§ 43:21-27(o)(1), (s). Under ordinary circumstances, no benefits provided by the TDBL are payable for the first seven days of a disability period. Id. at § 43:21-39(a).
S2304, which became law on March 25, 2020, makes several changes to the TDBL that apply during a declared state of emergency:
– The definition of “serious health condition” includes diagnosis of a pandemic-related communicable disease, exposure to the disease, or in-home quarantine or isolation in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.
– The definition of “sickness” also includes the above conditions.
– Workers may take temporary disability leave to care for family members who have the disease, have been exposed to the disease, or must go into quarantine because of the disease.
– The seven-day waiting period is waived if the purpose of the leave involves any part of the expanded definitions of “serious health condition” or “sickness.”
Retaliation for Taking Time Off
New Jersey provides earned sick leave for workers who are sick or injured, as well as family leave for workers who must care for a sick or injured family member. Employers may not retaliate against workers who use leave authorized by these laws. If an employee leaves work without approved leave, even if they do so to protect their co-workers from contagion, they might not be protected by existing law against retaliation. A3848, which became law on March 20, seeks to address this.
If, during the current state of emergency related to the coronavirus, an employee requests or takes leave from work because of a quarantine recommendation by a medical professional, the employer may not terminate them, refuse to reinstate them, or reduce their salary, benefits, or position. An employee can sue for reinstatement, but not monetary damages. Employers may face a civil fine of $2,500 per violation.
An employee in New Jersey or New York who has a family or medical leave dispute with their employer can be in a difficult position, especially in 2020. They need a dedicated advocate who can guide them through the legal process and fight for their rights. Please contact the Resnick Law Group’s employment attorneys today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation.