Labor & Employment Insights

Yesterday we issued a publication warning that Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 242, lifting the mask and social distancing mandates for workplaces effective May 28, 2021, was limited to businesses that open their doors to the general public.  Private businesses that do not open their indoor spaces to the public for the purpose of selling goods, attending activities, or providing services must continue to comply with the mandates.
Further Lifting of the Mask and Social Distancing Requirements for Employees: On the heels of that Executive Order, the Governor’s office issued Executive Order No. 243, which goes into effect on 6:00 a.m. on June 4, 2021. That order lifts the mask and social distancing requirements in private indoor workplaces for those employees who verify they have been “fully vaccinated” as defined by the CDC ( all vaccination shots completed no fewer than 14 days prior).  If the employer is unable to verify an employee’s vaccination status, it must require the employee to continue with the mask and social distancing requirements. The Order makes it clear that employers in workplaces not open to the public have the option to impose stricter requirements for mask-wearing and social distancing for employees but shall not restrict employees from wearing masks if they chose to do so.
Lifting of Requirements for Workplace Visitors: In addition, businesses not open to the general public are permitted to allow customers and visitors to enter the workplace without requiring a mask or social distancing, regardless of their vaccination status. As with employees, these businesses can impose stricter mask and social distancing requirements but may not restrict the wearing of masks by visitors.

Many across the State are celebrating Governor Murphy’s Executive Order (EO) No. 242 lifting the mask and social distancing mandates for businesses and workplaces put in place by EO 192 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Specifically, EO 242 states that individuals in “indoor public spaces” are no longer required to comply with these mandates regardless of their vaccination status.  Unvaccinated individuals “should” continue to wear mask in indoor public spaces but are not required to do so.   EO 242 includes limited exceptions for childcare centers, youth summer camps, schools , health facilities and other facilities.

However, for those business that do not qualify as “indoor public places”  the mask and social distancing mandates imposed by EO 192 remain in effect.   EO 242 expressly states that “indoor public spaces” do not include indoor workplaces that do not open their indoor spaces to the public for the purpose of selling goods, attending activities, or providing services.  According to EO 242, individuals in these indoor workplaces that are not open to the general public must continue to wear face coverings, subject only to the previously recognized exceptions, i.e., when the employee is at distances workstations or offices, and continue six feet social distancing to the maximum extent possible.

While there has been significant media coverage about the Governor’s lifting of restrictions, very few outlets have reported on the continuing requirement to observe COVID-19 protocols in private workplaces.   Intuitively, these private places may be safer than those workplaces that invite members of the general public into their premises, but until further relief comes from the Governor’s Office, these requirements remain in effect.

On  May 13, 2021 the CDC unexpectedly recommended that, with limited exceptions,  fully vaccinated individuals can resume all indoor and outdoor activities without wearing masks or social distancing, except where required by law or workplace guidance.  Individuals are deemed fully vaccinated 2 weeks after their final dose of the vaccine.

Under the new guidance, vaccinated individuals can resume pre-pandemic activities even if other individuals in the workplace are not fully vaccinated.  In addition, vaccinated individuals are no longer required to undergo COVID-testing or quarantine after travel within the United States.

Not so fast: The collective cheers heard in offices last Thursday afternoon following the CDC’s announcement were short-lived for some jurisdictions that were following the CDC guidance.   New York, Illinois and Massachusetts are among the states that have announced that they have or will imminently lift their states’ mask and social distancing mandates for vaccinated individuals.   California has announced that it will keep the mandates in place for indoor settings outside the home until June 15th.  New Jersey’s Governor Murphy is taking a more cautious approach, stating that all workplace requirements of EO 192 (mandatory masks, social distancing, daily health screenings, sanitation of work areas) remain in effect and he has not announced any timeline for the lifting of restrictions.

After much anticipation, New Jersey’s Governor Murphy signed the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act” into law on February 22, 2021. While this law made adult use recreational cannabis legal, the extensive law, together with a few “clean up bills,” did a whole lot more than legalization. In hundreds of pages, this law created the broad framework for the development and regulation of the entire cannabis industry including licensing, manufacture, distribution, taxation, enforcement, as well as criminal and social justice reforms for the possession and use of cannabis. It is therefore not surprising that some issues of particular importance to employers, such as drug testing and carve-outs for certain industries, are still hazy.

Importantly, while some provisions of the law became effective immediately, the provisions governing employment and those “activities associated with the personal use of cannabis,” are not operative until the newly appointed five member Cannabis Regulatory Commission adopts initial rules and regulations. These regulations, which will interpret and instruct how the law will be implemented, are required sometime within 180 days of the law’s adoption, or by mid-August 2021.

How does recreational marijuana impact Zero Tolerance Marijuana Policies?

On the heels of President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety directing the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) to issue “science-based guidance” to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure, the agency announced its updated guidance entitled Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace (the “Guidance”).  Along with providing information for employees on protecting against COIVD-19 infection, the Guidance provides additional details on key measures employers should take to limit the spread of the virus in the workplace.

Implementation of a COVID-19 protection program.  Although most employers have already implemented safety protocols in response to prior CDC guidance on reopening the workplace, the new Guidance provides greater details on recommended COVID-19 prevention programs which should include the following elements:

  • Assignment of a workplace coordinator responsible for COVID-19 issues on the employer’s behalf.

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are being administered to the general population, the Centers for Disease Control (the “CDC”) has issued new quarantine recommendations for individuals who have received the vaccination.

Quarantine not necessary for vaccinated individuals outside a healthcare setting who meet certain criteria.  Under the new CDC recommendations, individuals who have been fully vaccinated (one or two doses depending upon the authorized vaccine) are no longer required to quarantine for 14 days after exposure or suspected exposure to COVID-19 if they meet the following criteria:

  • they have been fully vaccinated , with at least 14 days since their final dose;

A recent decision from the New Jersey Appellate Division serves as a warning to employers requiring  employees to sign a bevy of employment-related documents during an orientation period.  The case, Imperato v. Medwell, LLC, concerned the enforceability of Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate all employment related disputes.

The employee acknowledged that she signed the agreement on her fourth day of employment with the employer.  Immediately above the employee’s signature line was a section titled “Voluntary Agreement,” which read in all capital letters:

I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I HAVE CAREFULLY READ THIS AGREEMENT, THAT I UNDERSTAND ITS TERMS, THAT ALL UNDERSTANDINGS AND AGREEMENTS BETWEEN THE COMPANY AND ME RELATING TO THE SUBJECTS COVERED IN THE AGREEMENT ARE CONTAINED IN IT, AND THAT I HAVE ENTERED INTO THE AGREEMENT VOLUNTARILY AND NOT IN RELIANCE ON ANY PROMISES OR REPRESENTATIONS BY THE COMPANY OTHER THAN THOSE CONTAINED IN THE AGREEMENT ITSELF.

The Biden Administration has made it clear that it intends to reverse many of the Trump Administration’s regulatory initiatives.  During his campaign Biden touted himself as a champion of labor, and his administration’s actions immediately after assuming power suggest that he intends to keep this campaign promise.  This article summarizes some of the actions already taken and those contemplated by the new administration.

EXECUTIVE ORDERS.  In his first week in office the Biden Administration signed 22 Executive Orders (EO’s), significantly more than his predecessors, and shows no signs of slowing the pace down.   Some of those affecting employers are discussed below.


Freeze on Proposed and Pending Regulations.  President Biden’s first EO called for an immediate withdrawal of administrative agency rules not yet published in Federal Register so they can be reviewed and approved by the new administration.  The Administration also asked federal agencies to consider postponing the effective date of pending rules published in Federal Register for 60 days and opening a 30 public comment period.

In November 2020, by a vote of 67.08% to 32.92%, the voters of New Jersey passed a ballot measure to amend New Jersey’s Constitution to make use of recreational marijuana by those over age 21 legal in New Jersey beginning on January 1, 2021. However, until legislation is signed by the Governor and rules and regulations are issued by the Commission, the details on legalization and the cannabis industry rollout are hazy.  And, what may be worse for New Jersey employers, is the considerable uncertainty regarding how they can maintain a drug free workplace.

When will recreational marijuana become legal?

With voter approval to legalize weed, it is clear that there exists considerable pressure to quickly pass legislation which explains how New Jersey’s recreational marijuana program will roll out. And while some might suggest that recreational marijuana became legal in New Jersey on January 1, 2021, because the ballot measure contemplated a highly regulated and taxed recreational cannabis market, most agree that recreational marijuana is not, in fact, legal until New Jersey’s recreational marijuana law and regulations are enacted.

In our December 11, 2020 publication found here, we explored the ability of employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace. In short, in the absence of federal or state laws to the contrary, employers are free to mandate vaccinations.

On December 16, 2020 the EEOC issued guidance that paved the way for employers to mandate vaccinations without fear of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), Title VII and other federal law.  The provisions of the new guidance are outlined below.

Vaccinations are not “medical examinations” under the ADA.

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