As discussed in Mashel Law’s last blog posting, when a worker stricken with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), or likely exposed to same, needs to take time off to recover from the effects of the virus or to quarantine themselves from spreading it to family and coworkers, he or she may find job protections under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the New Jersey Family Leave Act and the New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Act. Adding to this arsenal of legal relief against an employer who chooses not to provide a worker with medical leave in such a circumstance is the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s (“NJDOL”) recent adoption of temporary emergency new rules to be found at N.J.A.C. 12:70 which will codify New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s Executive Order No. 103 (2020) a/k/a the New Jersey COVID 19 Anti-Retaliation Law. These new rules prohibit an employer from terminating or otherwise penalizing an employee for requesting or taking time off from work based on the written or electronically transmitted recommendation of a medical professional licensed in New Jersey stating the employee needs time off for a specified period of time because the employee has, or is likely to have, COVID-19 or any other infectious disease, which may infect others in the workplace.
Proposed new rule N.J.A.C. 12:70-1.3 states that upon the expiration of a period of protected leave, an employee must be restored to the position the employee held immediately prior to the start of the protected leave, with no reduction in seniority, status, employment benefits, pay, or other terms and conditions of employment. Additionally, this new section states that if the employee’s position has been filled, the employer must reinstate the employee returning from protected leave to an equivalent position of like seniority, status, employment benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment.
Proposed new rule N.J.A.C. 12:70-1.4 prohibits an employer from discharging or in any way retaliating against or penalizing any employee because the employee requests or takes protected leave. Concurrently, the rule also addresses situations where failure of an employer not to reinstate an employee would not be deemed retaliatory if: (1) the employer conducts a reduction in force that would have affected the employee had that person been at work; or (2) the employee would have been impacted by the good faith operation of a bona fide layoff and recall system, including a system under a collective bargaining agreement that would not entitle the employee to reinstatement to the former or an equivalent position. The remedies available for a violation of the New Jersey COVID 19 Anti-Retaliation Law is limited to the commencement of an administrative action before the NJDOL seeking reinstatement to the same or equivalent position. A potential fine of up to $2,500 can also be assessed against a violating employer.