On March 19, 2020, Governor Murphy signed a new law that grants immediate protection to employees who have or are likely to have an “infectious disease” caused by “a living organism or other pathogen, including a fungus, bacteria, parasite, protozoan, virus or poison, which may or may not be transmissible from person to person, animal to person, or insect to person.” The coronavirus is an infectious disease within the meaning of the law.
Employer Mandates: The law mandates that an employer may NOT terminate the employment of any employee who requests or who takes time off from work based on a written or electronically transmitted recommendation from a New Jersey medical professional that the employee should take time off for a specified period because the employee has or is likely to have an infectious disease. Additionally, the employer may NOT refuse to reinstate the employee to work after the expiration of the leave specified by the medical professional. Reinstatement must be to the same position held when the leave commenced without any additional penalties.
Violations: Any employer violating this new law will be compelled to reinstate the employee to his/her prior position and is subject to a fine of $2,500 for each violation.
Additional Job Protections Under the LAD: Employers should also keep in mind the legal protections accorded to employees under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) which prohibits discrimination against those who suffer from any “infirmity” or who are “perceived” as suffering from an infirmity, such as the coronavirus. On March 19, 2020, the state Attorney General issued guidance that addressed the LAD protections for employees dealing with coronavirus-related concerns. For example, the guidance states that “your employer cannot fire you because you coughed at work and they perceived you to have a disability related to COVID-19.” Therefore, employers who terminate employees based upon unfounded suspicions that they suffer from the virus may be buying significant liability for unlawful discrimination in violation of the LAD.
The guidance further notes that employers cannot terminate employees who report coronavirus-related harassment in the workplace.