Remote work, telecommuting, and other “alternative” forms of work were already becoming increasingly common before the COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2020, many thousands of workers found themselves having to adapt quite quickly to work-from-home scenarios as part of New Jersey’s public health response. An executive order (EO) from New Jersey’s governor effectively mandated remote work for many employers and employees for over a year. That mandate ended in the summer of 2021, but many workers would prefer to continue working from home. This raises questions about employees’ rights regarding remote work. If you work from home and have questions regarding your rights to continue to work remotely, please contact a New Jersey employment lawyer today.
The governor issued EO 107 in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 21, 2020. The order directed New Jersey residents to “remain home or at their place of residence” at most times, with exceptions for activities like obtaining food and other goods, seeking medical care, and going to work. Paragraph 10 of EO 107 required employers to “accommodate their workforce, wherever practicable, for telework or work-from-home arrangements.” This provision took effect immediately.
The governor issued EO 243 over a year later, on May 26, 2021. This order revoked paragraph 10 of EO 107, effective June 4. Employers who required their employees to return to the worksite would still be required to follow an order issued last November, EO 192, regarding workplace safety during the pandemic.
Legal Rights to Work Remotely
With no further legal mandate for remote work, many employers instructed their employees to return to their usual place of work. Not all workers wanted to do this. This raises questions about what rights workers have — if any — to work from home when practicable. To put that question another way, what obligations do employers have to accommodate employees who would prefer to work remotely?
Not every job is amenable to remote work, but many jobs are. EO 107 used the term “accommodate” to describe its work-from-home mandate. This term also appears in state and federal laws addressing disability discrimination. The pandemic presents a threat to public health, and for many workers working from home was a reasonable accommodation for the goal of reducing the spread of the virus as much as possible.
A lawsuit filed in August 2021 alleges that a New Jersey township discriminated on the basis of disability by refusing to reasonably accommodate the plaintiff’s request to work from home in the middle of the pandemic. The plaintiff took leave in the summer of 2020, as provided by the Family First Coronavirus Response Act, to take care of her children. When her leave ran out, child care facilities in her area were still closed because of the pandemic. She asked for approval to work from home several days a week. She alleges that the township denied her request and eventually forced her to resign.
The lawsuit takes advantage of a law passed by the New Jersey Legislature last year that adds efforts to prevent a communicable disease from spreading to the definition of “disability.” It remains to be seen whether workers will be able to claim a right to work from home once the pandemic is over.
The Resnick Law Group’s employment attorneys advocate for the rights of employees and job seekers in New Jersey and New York, representing them in claims for unlawful employment practices under state and federal law. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you with your case.