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By: Ashley Hobson
New Jersey has been one of the most proactive and reactive states amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As of the publication of this Blog, the State has only entered into the second stage of its reopening, which still excludes indoor dining and attendance at bars, indoor exercise at gyms and other fitness studios, and attendance at nightclubs.
As the state continues to slowly reopen its doors, employers must be keenly aware of the many regulations imposed on newly reopened facilities. Not only are New Jersey businesses advised to follow CDC and OSHA Guidelines in reopening their businesses, they must follow guidelines imposed by the state. Despite the initial closure of many retail operations, on April 15, 2020, Executive Order No. 122 provided a short, but comprehensive list of cleaning requirements for business that remained open and those that would eventually reopen. The guidelines include, but are not limited to, routine cleaning and disinfecting of highly touched areas, maintaining routine cleaning procedures in areas that are not highly touched, and ensuring there are enough workers to implement the cleaning protocols.
As employees remain cautious about a return to work, many employees across the state, however, remain unable to return to their positions because their employers can only reopen as a part of the 3rd stage of Governor Phil Murphy’s plan. As a result, the current employment rate increased to 15.2% in May 2020, which represents a drastic increase from 3.3% in the prior year.
To continue to prepare for the growing number of the unemployed, on July 1, 2020, New Jersey’s Department of Labor expanded the number of eligible weeks for a claimant by 20 weeks. The additional 20 weeks will begin after the claimant has exhausted the initial 26 weeks of the state’s unemployment and the 13 weeks of the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (“PEUC”).
In addition to the additional state benefits, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced that eligible workers will be able to receive a larger percentage of their wages under the Temporary Disability Insurance and Family Leave Insurance programs. The changes to the legislation will provide:
The increased benefit amount and time adds to the growing list of protections under New Jersey’s ever-expanding protections for the employed and unemployed. It will remain to be seen if additional expansions will be announced after the expiration of the additional 20 weeks of unemployment compensation and if the state will also increase the benefit amount as the unemployment rate continues to hover in the double digits.
All of these new changes remind employers that they must remain vigilant in understanding their obligations during these very unusual times. Of course, if you have any questions, please contact one of our New Jersey Labor & Employment team members.
FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.
You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].
**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you. We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**