Attention New Jersey Employers! (Others can still read this too though . . .) We know it’s a slow news day and nothing else is really going on . . . so here’s an update on New Jersey and COVID!
Governor Murphy recently signed into law Executive Order 192 which becomes effective tomorrow, November 5th. This new law creates MANDATORY anti-COVID measures for all employers along with some hefty penalties for violations. A copy of the order can be found here, but we’ll break it down for you quickly: Who does this new law apply to? Every business in New Jersey, including non-profits, that allows workers to be present at a worksite. What’s required? The mandatory requirements track CDC guidelines but also add some extra measures. Specifically, covered employers are required to implement the following:
- Daily health checks (such as temperature screenings, visual symptom checks, and self-assessment questionnaires).
- A plan to notify employees if there’s a confirmed COVID exposure in the workplace (while still maintaining compliance with applicable confidentiality laws).
- Social distancing of “at least six feet” for everyone, including visitors and vendors, unless an exception applies (i.e. where this is not possible, like doctor’s visits).
- Mandatory mask wearing. Employees can only remove their mask if they’re more than 6 feet away or it’s impracticable given the scenario (i.e. they’re eating or getting a dental cleaning).
- Make hygiene stations available to all employees and visitors and include hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and sanitizing wipes.
- Provide hand-washing breaks for all employees.
- Routinely clean and disinfect all high-traffic/touch areas (handles, coffee machines, etc.)
- Automatically send home any employee who appears symptomatic.
Are there any exceptions? Yes, but only for certain professions (including healthcare personnel) and only to the extent these requirements “interfere” with standard job duties. What does this mean? Essentially, what we’ve known from the CDC to be “good practice” is now mandatory under state law. But implementation of certain measures is tricky. For example, how do you perform daily health checks in a way that is safe, confidential, and doesn’t disrupt your daily business? How do you enforce or oversee employees’ hand-washing routines? How do you ensure that individuals don’t come within 6 feet of each other in the restrooms, common areas, and elevators?
Are there penalties for non-compliance? Oh yes. The NJ Department of Labor is taking this seriously, even going so far as to encourage employees to report violations, and implementing an intake process for such employee complaints. Violators of this order are subject to:
- forced business closure;
- arrest for “disorderly conduct”;
- up to 6 months in prison; and
- fines up to $1,000.
What you can do now. Hopefully you’ve already implemented most of these safety measures. If not, now’s a good time! Prepare a written plan explaining your safety measures and distribute that to your employees. Make sure all employees sign an acknowledgement form that becomes part of their personnel file. Some of the items to include:
- How will daily screenings be taken?
- What if someone removes a mask in the office?
- Can you refuse entry to someone who isn’t wearing a mask because it makes it difficult for them to breath?
- What happens if an employee refuses to comply with these protocols?
- Are hourly employees required to be paid for time spent at health screenings or during hygiene breaks?
Remember, implementing and clearly communicating an effective safety and health protocol will not only help shield against legal challenges, but it will also likely increase workplace morale. Win-win.
As always, if you have questions, we have answers.