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Friday, June 19, 2020

Bill Prohibits Retaliation Against Workers Who Refuse to Work in Unsafe COVID Working Condition

Recently introduced NJ legislation provides that during any public health emergency or state of emergency declared by the Governor Pat Murphy, and employee who:

  1. Performs functions which involve physical proximity to members of the public or to other employees in the work site where in the employer-sponsored or employer-authorized transportation, housing or dining facilities, and which are essential to the public health, safety, and welfare, including transportation services, hotel in residential services, financial services, and the production, preparation, storage, sale, and distribution of essential goods such as food, beverages, medicine, fuel, and supplies for conducting essential business and work at home; 

  2. Any other employee deemed in essential employee by the public authority declaring a public health emergency or a state of emergency, has the right to refuse to work on site under conditions that violate health and safety standards or otherwise jeopardize the health of the employees or members of the employees family, either because the employer has not taken sufficient measures to alleviate exposures to double disease or other health and safety hazards, Word because such measures are not feasible with respect to the available work and the employee as in the case of the employees driving passengers in a personal vehicle, or in the case of an employee with hybrid or ability to serious adverse health effects from the communicable disease or other health or safety hazard. 
An employee in the public or private sector who during a public health emergency, or state of emergency:
  1. Is public safety worker or first responder, including any fire, police or other emergency responders; or 

  2. Is providing medical in other healthcare services, emergency transportation, social services, and other care services, including services provided in healthcare facilities, residential facilities, or homes will not be covered by the legislation. 
Under the bill, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development is required to develop standards by which to determine whether under the circumstances, and employees decision to refuse to work on site is reasonable within 60 days following the date of enactment of the bill.

The bill requires several circumstances that would make employees decision to refuse to work reasonable.

The bill mandates the Department to consult with worker centers, worker right organizations, nonprofit legal services organizations, exclusive representative employee organizations, and unions in the state with the development of standards, message for employees to file complaints, and a dispute resolution process for complaints.

The bill requires the Division of Wage and Hour Compliance to attempt to properly resolve any complaint within 48 hours from the filing of the complaint. If the division cannot resolve the complaint within that timeframe, the division will continue to investigate the matter and make a decision within 120 hours from the submission of the complaint as to whether or not the employees refusal to work is reasonable under the circumstances, and the measures that the Warrior is required to take, if possible, for the employee to return to work.

The bill prohibits workers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the this act and treats violations of the act as violations of the New Jersey State wage and hour law. NJSA 34:11-56a et seq. (Introduced June 15, 2020) Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle 

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Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.
Twitter: jongelman
LinkedIn: JonGelman
Author: "Workers' Compensation Law" West-Thomson-Reuters