Workplace Safety Protocols During a Crisis
When Covid-19 first hit New Jersey, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 192 in order to combat rising case numbers. EO 192 mandates specific health and safety standards to protect workers and customers during the pandemic. This past year, we have learned just how important it is to have consistent workplace safety protocols during a crisis. While it is important to keep certain businesses operating during a crisis, it is equally important to keep New Jersey residents safe and comfortable at work.
If you have been required to physically show up at your workplace during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is imperative that you understand the safety standards your employer is required to provide you. Below, we will discuss the details of Executive Order 192 so you can know if your rights have been violated. Then, we will touch on when it is appropriate to hire a lawyer.
Applicability and Exceptions
EO 192 applies to every business, non-profit, and governmental or educational entity that the Order collectively defines as “employer”. In other words, most employers are subject to EO 192. There are, however, a few exceptions. First responders, emergency management personnel, emergency dispatchers, healthcare personnel, court personnel, law enforcement, corrections personnel, hazardous material responders, transit workers, child protection personnel, child welfare personnel, housing or shelter personnel, military employees, and governmental employees engaged in emergency response activities do not have to follow the protocol requirements of EO 192 if the requirements actively interfere with their operational duties. Furthermore, the protocol requirements of the Order do not apply to the Federal Government or to religious institutions if the requirements, “would prohibit the free exercise of religion.”
- Individuals at the worksite must maintain, at least, six feet distance from others as much as possible. If it is not possible to maintain six feet of distance, employers must ensure all employees wear face masks. Employers must also install physical barriers between work stations wherever possible.
- Individuals entering the worksite must wear cloth or disposable face masks while on the premises. Exceptions include children under the age of 2 or if it is impracticable for an individual to wear a face mask. For example, if the individual is eating, drinking, or the service provided cannot be performed while the individual wears a mask.
- Employers may permit employees to remove their face masks when they are situated at their work station and more than six feet away from others. Employers may also allow employees to remove their face masks if they are alone in the office.
- Employers must make face masks available to their employees, at the employer’s expense.
- Employers may deny entry to employees who refuse to wear a face covering, except when doing so would violate state or federal law. Employers can require employees to provide medical documentation supporting claims that they are unable to wear a mask due to a disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), employers may be required to undergo an interactive process to determine if reasonable accommodations can be provided to the employee.
- Likewise, employers may deny entry to customers or any visitors who refuse to wear a face covering, except when doing so would violate state or federal law. The employer may be required to provide a customer or visitor who declines to wear a face mask due to a disability reasonable accommodation compliant with ADA and NJLAD. If accommodations would pose an undue hardship on the employer’s operations, they may be excused from providing accommodations.
- If a customer refuses to wear a mask, neither the employer nor employees can require a customer or visitor to produce medical documentation verifying their stated condition unless otherwise required by state or federal law.
- Employers must provide sanitization materials to employees, customers, and visitors at no additional cost.
- Employers must ensure that employees are practicing regular hand hygiene, especially when employees are interacting with the public. Employers must provide employees with adequate break times for repeated hand washing throughout the day, as well as access to adequate handwashing facilities.
- High-touch areas must be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
- Prior to each shift, employees must go through a daily health screening in accordance with the CDC guidelines. This may include temperature checks, visual symptom checking, self-assessment checklists, and/or health questionnaires.
- Employers must immediately separate and send home employees who appear to have symptoms. Then, all other employees should be promptly notified of any exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace. Any notifications should be consistent with the confidentiality requirements of the Anti Discrimination Act and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- If/when an employee at the worksite has been diagnosed with Covid-19, the worksite must be cleaned and disinfected in accordance with CDC guidelines.
- Employers must continue to follow cleaning and safety guidelines issued by the New Jersey Department of Health, the CDC, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Training and Non-Compliance
The Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor (NJDOL) is directed by EO 192 to, “provide compliance and safety training for employees and employers.” This training is to inform workers of their rights and businesses of their obligations under EO 192. Furthermore, the Department of Health (DOH) and NJDOL are required by EO 192 to establish a process for intake and investigation of complaints regarding workplace safety during the pandemic. Violations of this Order by employers can result in potential worksite closure, fines, or other penalties. The exact penalty measures for non-compliance are not fully outlined in EO 192.
Need a Lawyer to help you with workplace safety protocols during a crisis?
If your employer has failed to comply with the requirements of EO 192, you are encouraged to file a health and safety complaint through New Jersey’s Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH) system. It may also benefit you to speak with an attorney. Because the requirements of EO 192 are fairly new, and interplay with previous Executive Orders, it can be difficult to understand your legal rights in the face of non-compliance. David Kaplan, attorney at law, has dedicated his 30+ year career to helping those who have had their rights infringed upon. He understands the extra pressures of working during a pandemic and believes every employee deserves to feel safe and cared for by their employer. David provides a free initial consultation so you can discuss the specifics of your case and the appropriate next steps for you to take. To learn more, visit David Kaplan’s website.