With incidences of positive cases of COVID-19 on the rise, New Jersey health officials are urging residents to help “flatten the curve” by social distancing or self-quarantining. However, with many individuals working in an office or otherwise interacting with customers, this request becomes a tall order. In weighing whether you can afford to stay home and self-quarantine, it is important to keep in mind that if you protest your employer making you go to work against lawful orders, you cannot be retaliated against.
Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”)
CEPA is a New Jersey law that protects employees from retaliation for objecting to something that they reasonably believed violated the law.
CEPA prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee for engaging in a broad range of what it refers to as “protected activities.” This includes “objecting to or refusing to participate in an activity the employee reasonably believes (1) is in violation of a law or a legal regulation; (2) is fraudulent or criminal; or (3) is incompatible with a legal requirement relating to public health, safety, welfare or the protection of the environment.”
The Act allows for a multitude of damages and remedies, including reinstatement to your job, lost wages and benefits, damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages. An employee may also recover attorneys’ fees from the employer.
New Jersey has created a website that answers basic questions for both workers and businesses with respect to the COVID-19 outbreak. Some employers may have taken action on their own and shifted to remote work only. Additionally, Governor Phil Murphy has stated that most New Jersey public workers will not need to use paid sick leave to take time off.
There is a stimulus package that has just been signed into law to help ease the burden COVID-19 has inflicted on the United States economy. Referred to as the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” one of the key components of the policy is that it would give some workers two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family leave. It also expands Medicaid and unemployment benefits. However, it applies only to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, and the workers or their family members must be infected or told to go into quarantine.
There are also several other benefits offered to those whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19, detailed in the chart below.COVID-19 SCENARIOS
Governor Phil Murphy has said that staying home from work was “the best social distancing policy we can employ.”
“I’ll be darned if an employer says to you, ‘I don’t feel comfortable coming to work, please can I work from home,’ I’ll be a son of a gun if the answer to that is no,” Murphy said Sunday. “And if it is no, I think we’d like to hear about it at the Department of Labor. Because this is the time when we’re encouraging that.”
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