COVID-19 Checklist for NJ Public Employers

Posted on Monday, March 16th, 2020.

COVID-19 Checklist for NJ Public Employers

Under state and federal law, New Jersey employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthful work environment for all employees. Public employers must simultaneously be able to continue to provide local government services in a state of emergency, and under predicted staffing shortages. This checklist is intended to provide employers with proposed policies and procedures for employers to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”)(applicable to New Jersey public employers through the Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Act (PEOSHA)), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and the New Jersey Civil Service Commission have all issued guidance regarding COVID-19 and/or pandemic flu.

Workplace Hygiene

  • COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person to person contact. Encourage frequent handwashing among employees or the use of hand sanitizer if hand washing is not possible.
  • Clean and disinfect hard surfaces as frequently as possible, particularly surfaces like doorknobs, hand railings, conference room tables, workstations and any communal areas where multiple people will be accessing the same space.
  • Reduce in person meetings to the extent it is possible to do so, and replace with teleconferencing or video conferencing.
  • Encourage social distancing at work, reminding employees to stay apart as much as possible in the workplace.
  • Consider staggering work hours, lunch hours and break times to avoid close contact in common work areas like lunch rooms and break rooms, particularly for essential employees.
  • Provide tissues and hand sanitizer in common areas.
  • Refrain from shaking hands.
  • Increase cleaning schedules and ensure employees wear appropriate protective gear when necessary, g., latex gloves.
  • OSHA-issued COVID-19 guidance identifies 4 risk zones according to the likelihood of employees’ occupational exposure during a pandemic. These risk zones are useful in determining appropriate work practices and precautions. Refer to the attached OSHA Guidance for Preparing Workplaces on COVID-19.
  • Employees who develop symptoms of COVID-19 illness (cough, fever, shortness of breath) should be instructed to remain at home and not return to work until they receive verified medical clearance to return to work.
  • Employees who become aware that they have had close contact with a person infected with COVID-19 should be instructed to remain at home until fourteen days have elapsed from the latest date of such close contact.
  • As of March 16, 2020, the CDC recommends cancelling all meetings of 50 or more people for at least the next eight weeks. Consider cancelling all in-person meetings of 20 or more, and rely on remote meetings to the extent practicable.

Flexible Worktime and Remote Work

  • All employers should allow employees to work remotely if possible.
  • Pursuant to the emergency declaration in Executive Order 103, issued by Governor Murphy, Appointing Authorities in civil service jurisdictions are permitted to implement or modify flextime or alternative workweek programs and may adjust established hours of daily or shift operations without the need for prior approval. These flextime arrangements may include modifications regarding hours of work and break times. Non-civil jurisdictions may also refer to civil-service instructions. See attached guidance from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.
  • Check with IT departments to ensure employees have the appropriate equipment to work from home. Check that all systems have the capacity to function with increased remote access.
  • Ensure that servers which are accessible from home are protected from potential hacking, as these threats have been increased during the pandemic.

If an Employee Reports to Work With Symptoms of COVID-19 or the Flu

  • Send any employee home that has a suspected, presumed or confirmed acute respiratory infection immediately. Symptoms include, fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath.
  • Follow existing personnel policies on contagious diseases and/or develop such policies and procedures, and apply them to employee reporting of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • Do not disclose any personally identifying information about an employee with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, including the person’s name and/or gender. Confidentiality requirements pertaining to employee medical conditions have not yet been relaxed.
  • Keep all medical information concerning employees with a suspected, presumed or confirmed case of COVID-19 confidential.
  • Identify any and all potential employees and/or members of the public that may have been exposed to the employee (within three to six feet of proximity) with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and notify them.
  • Send home all employees who worked closely with that employee for a 14-day period of time to ensure the infection does not spread.
  • Encourage employees to self-monitor symptoms and inform them to not report to work if they have any COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Inform employees to self-report any known exposure to suspected, presumed and/or confirmed cases of COVID-19 and tell them to self-quarantine for a 14-day period.
  • Refer to CDC Interim Guidance for Business and Employers on COVID-19. Watch for updates.
  • There is no obligation for employers to report suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the CDC.
  • The EEOC takes the position that the taking of employee temperatures, which is normally unlawful, becomes permissible when a pandemic is declared and fever is a symptom of the pandemic illness. But employers considering this option should be aware that COVID-19 is communicable before symptoms such as fever appear. Taking employee temperatures does not guarantee that COVID-19 carriers will be excluded from the workplace.
  • Employees who suspect they have COVID-19 should call their doctor or the New Jersey Poison Control Hotline 1-800-222-1222 before going to an emergency room or doctor’s office for instructions on if/where they should be tested.

 Sick Leave and Family Leave Policies

  • At this time, all New Jersey local public employers, in both civil and non-civil service jurisdictions, should follow their existing sick and family leave policies and procedures for any and all employees who have suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. This may change pending additional guidance from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission and/or the Governor’s Office.
  • Employers should also follow existing policies and procedures, in compliance with the Earned Sick Leave Act, for employees utilizing sick leave to care for family members who have suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
  • Employers should follow existing policies and procedures concerning NJ Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
  • Employers considering allowing employees to use paid leave for COVID-19-related absences without charge against existing sick leave must consult with their unions before implementing such a policy. Paid leave is mandatorily negotiable.

Workers Compensation

  • Some insurance funds have stated that public works and public safety employees who contract COVID-19 and/or are potentially exposed to it as a result of their work will be covered by workers compensation for any quarantining or illness. Check with your individual carrier for coverage information.

FLSA Obligations

  • Pursuant to the FLSA, any exempt workers who perform any work during a work week, whether remotely or at a work site, must continue to be paid their salary.
  • Non-exempt employees must also be paid if they continue to perform work remotely. It is the employer’s responsibility to develop a method of timekeeping to track time worked at home by non-exempt employees.
  • Contact us with questions about payment obligations to specific employees.

Collective Negotiations Agreements

  • Public employers must continue to follow negotiated provisions in their collective negotiations agreements. Contact us with questions concerning employer obligations.

Unemployment and Temporary Disability Insurance:

  • If an employee’s regular hours of work have been reduced due to a reduction in force related to COVID-19, depending on the number of hours that have been reduced and the amount of earning for the week, the person may be eligible for reduced UI benefits. See the New Jersey Department of Labor for more information.
  • If your place of business is closed due by a public official for a public health reason, employees may be considered unemployed due to a temporary layoff and may be eligible for UI benefits once all sick leave benefits are exhausted.
  • If an employee contracts COVID-19 or has symptoms of COVID-19 and exhausts all sick leave benefits, they may be eligible for temporary disability insurance.

This checklist will be updated periodically as new developments arise. This checklist was updated on March 16, 2020, at 12:00pm

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