The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt businesses like never before. Early on in the pandemic, state governments shut down non-essential retail establishments and many businesses in the service industry. Over the last several months, businesses have reopened but with restrictions. In New Jersey, Governor Murphy signed several Executive Orders allowing restaurants to open but with limited capacity, shortened hours, and extensive safety measures.
All of this is to protect restaurant employees and patrons from contracting and spreading COVID-19. Unfortunately, not all restaurants are complying with these precautions leaving employees and their families at risk for contracting the virus. If you work at a restaurant and are concerned about your employer’s compliance with COVID-19 rules, McOmber McOmber & Luber P.C. has compiled the following information for you.
Restaurants Must Keep Employees Safe
Restaurant workers are in constant contact with the public. Due to this high exposure, Governor Murphy signed several Executive Orders requiring restaurant employers to take many safety measures including the following:
- Employers must provide face coverings to employees free of charge. Your employer can allow you to remove your mask if you are at a workstation at least six feet from others or alone in a walled off space like an office. Customers and visitors (except when eating or drinking or if under 2 years of age) must wear face masks or be denied entrance. Executive Order 192
- Employers must provide sanitation materials at no cost to employees.
- Employers must give employees sufficient break time to wash hands.
- Prior to each shift, employers should conduct daily health screenings, such as taking employees’ temperatures and asking health questions.
- Employers must promptly notify employees of any known exposure of COVID-19 at the workplace.
Restaurant Capacity and Layout
If you work at an indoor restaurant in New Jersey, your employer should be doing the following:
- Limiting the number of patrons to 25% capacity, excluding the number of employees.
- Limiting seating to 8 people per table unless they are in the same household.
- Arranging tables at least 6 feet apart. Tables may be closer if they have barriers separating them.
- Only allowing customers to eat and drink while seated.
- Prohibiting seating at the bar.
- Closing the restaurant by 10 pm each day and not opening until 5 am. Outdoor dining and takeout may continue past 10 pm.
Outdoor Seating Requirements
There are special rules for restaurants with outdoor dining. Outdoor dining is considered a restaurant area with a fixed roof, and at least two sides open compromising over 50% of the total wall space. Executive Order 163
Individual fully enclosed dining bubbles may be set up for outdoor use but cannot have more than 8 people in each bubble. In addition, the bubble must be ventilated, cleaned and sanitized between seatings, and the structure must comply with local fire safety codes and permits. Executive Order 194
What Do I Do If My Employer is Not Taking Safety Precautions?
If you believe your employer is not following proper safety measures, you can file a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLW) and OSHA. The State has also set up a COVID-19 Information Hub that allows you to file a complaint for COVID-19 violations. You can find that form here.
Your employer cannot retaliate against you for filing a complaint pursuant to the New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) as well as other state and federal laws.