Author: Elizabeth Cowit

OSHA Issues Updated COVID-19 Guidance

The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently updated its Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace (“Guidance”), to bring it in line with the most recent recommendations published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) on July 27, 2021, which were updated in view of the Delta variant. The updated Guidance is designed to help employers (outside of healthcare) protect workers who are “unvaccinated” or otherwise at risk, and differentiates, in certain respects, as to recommendations for unvaccinated and vaccinated employees, with vaccinated employees not subject to the same level of precautionary measures as their unvaccinated peers. The Guidance recommends that employers engage with their employees – and, where applicable, employee representative associations – to determine how to implement multilayered interventions to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk employees, and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the workplace. The recommended interventions are summarized, in part, below: Facilitating Vaccinations: Employers should grant employees paid time off to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine and to recover from any side effects. Employers should also consider working with local public health authorities to provide vaccinations in the workplace and should adopt policies that require employees to either get vaccinated or undergo regularly scheduled Covid testing in addition...

New Jersey Enacts Three Laws with Enhanced Penalties for Employer Misclassification

On July 8, 2021, Governor Murphy signed into law three bills that amend the Worker Misclassification Package signed into law in January 2020 and intensify penalties against employers that misclassify workers. As employment practitioners across the state will recall, the Misclassification Package signed into law in January 2020 consists of a number of laws that grant the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development (“Commissioner”) the power to assess penalties against any employer that misclassifies its employees and to issue stop-work orders at the location where any state wage, benefit, or employment tax law violation is found. The laws included in the previously enacted Misclassification Package also allow the New Jersey Department of Labor (NJDOL) to post on its website a list of employers who have been found to misclassify their workers and to create joint liability for employers and staffing agencies for violations of state wage and hour laws. For a more detailed look at the Misclassification Package, see here.

NJ Supreme Court Holds a Supervisor’s Use of Two Racial Slurs Was Enough to Send the Claims to a Jury

On June 16, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Rios v. Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc., Tina Cheng-Avery, Glenn Gnirrep, et. al. that a supervisor’s use of two offensive slurs based on race/national origin and directed at a Hispanic employee was sufficiently “severe and pervasive” to establish a hostile work environment claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”), survive summary judgment, and proceed to trial. In Rios, Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc. (“Meda” or “Company”), hired plaintiff, Armando Rios, Jr., a Hispanic male, as the Company’s Director of Brand Marketing, reporting to individual defendant Tina Cheng-Avery, the Senior Director of Commercial Operations (“supervisor”). Plaintiff alleged that his supervisor directed the term “Sp–” towards him while at work. More specifically, plaintiff claimed that a month after his hire in May 2015, he told his supervisor that he and his wife were searching for a new home, and, in response, she stated, “it must be hard for a Sp– to have to get FHA loans.” According to plaintiff, shortly after this comment was made, his supervisor allegedly stated to him that an actress who had been “auditioning” for a company commercial would be hired “if she didn’t look too Sp–ky.” (Chief Justice Rabner noted that the court had used “the offensive language in the record” as it...

New Jersey Guidance Establishes That Employers Can Require That Employees Receive COVID-19 Vaccine to Enter Workplace

With COVID-19 vaccinations becoming more accessible to individuals, the question on many employers’ minds is whether the employer can now require its employees to be vaccinated in order to return to the workplace. On March 19, 2021, the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) addressed this question and published guidance stating that an employer can require that its employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine to return to the workplace. The DOH guidance, however, does include exceptions to mandatory vaccination policies implemented by employers as follows: if an employee cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine because of a disability that precludes him or her from being vaccinated; where an employee’s doctor has advised the employee not to get the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding; or where an employee has a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance that precludes him or her from receiving the vaccine, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation from its mandatory vaccine policy – unless doing so would impose an undue burden on its operations. In the event an employee seeks to be exempt from a mandatory vaccination policy for medical reasons (described above), his or her employer may request medical documentation from the employee to confirm the employee (i) has a disability precluding him or her from vaccination, or (ii) has been...

New York State Enacts Law Providing Paid Time Off for COVID-19 Vaccination

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation S2558A/A3354-B granting all public and private employees in New York paid leave to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine. The new legislation, which is effective as of March 12, 2021 and expires on December 31, 2022, amends the New York Civil Service Law (with respect to public employees), along with the New York Labor Law, and provides public and private employees with up to four hours of paid leave per vaccine injection. In connection with this legislation, the New York Labor Law was amended to add Section 196-c, which provides that: New York employees must receive paid COVID-19 vaccine leave of up to four hours per vaccine injection. Thus, employees receiving a two-injection COVID-19 vaccine (such as those currently offered by Pfizer and Moderna) will receive up to eight hours of paid leave to obtain the vaccine. The “four hour” maximum does not apply to an employee subject to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) providing a greater number of hours of leave to obtain the vaccine or where an employer authorizes additional time off for employees to receive the vaccine. The leave must be paid at an employee’s regular rate of pay. The leave cannot be charged against “any other” employee leave. Accordingly, employers cannot require employees to use other available...

New Jersey Supreme Court Decision Explains Requirements to Assert Statutory Good Faith Defense to Wage and Hour Claims

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that employers could not rely on determinations made by subordinate employees of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“Department”) to support a “good faith” exemption from New Jersey’s overtime pay mandates, instead finding such determinations must come from either the Commissioner of the Department or the Director of the Division of Wage and Hour Bureau. In Elmer Branch v. Cream-O-Land Dairy, the plaintiff Elmer Branch, a truck driver, filed a putative class action lawsuit against his employer Cream-O-Land Dairy (“Cream-O-Land” or “the defendant”) for payment of overtime wages under the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (WHL). The plaintiff claimed that he, along with other “similarly situated truck drivers” employed by the defendant, were eligible for overtime pay at 1½ times their regular hourly wage. Cream-O-Land asserted two principal arguments in defense of the lawsuit: (1) it is exempt from the overtime requirements of the WHL because it is a “trucking industry” employer (and thus required to pay employees only 1½ times the minimum wage as opposed to 1½ times the employees’ regular rate of pay); and (2) it relied in “good faith” on certain prior determinations made by the Department finding that Cream-O-Land qualified as a “trucking industry employer” under the WHL and, therefore,...

OSHA Releases New Workplace Guidance on COVID-19

On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued the Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety (“Executive Order”) directing, among other things, that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issue, within two weeks, revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, consider establishing emergency temporary standards for workplace COVID-19 protections, and, if needed, issue such standards by March 15, 2021. The Executive Order also requires that OSHA launch a national program to focus its enforcement efforts on those violations that place the greatest number of employees at serious risk or conflict with anti-retaliation principles and publicize its efforts through a multilingual outreach campaign to inform employees of their rights under OSHA’s applicable regulations, with special emphasis on communities hit hardest by COVID-19. On January 29, 2021, as directed by the Executive Order, OSHA issued new guidance, entitled Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigation and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace (the “Guidance”). The Guidance, which is supplemented by industry-specific measures, provides recommendations to assist employers in creating and maintaining safe and healthy workplaces, while also describing OSHA’s current safety and health standards. The new Guidance is not substantially different from previous OSHA guidance, but it sets a different tone – signaling greater support for OSHA enforcement. Importantly, the Guidance...

The NY DOL Issues Guidance on COVID-19 Sick Leave

On January 20, 2021, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) issued new guidance on New York’s COVID-19 Sick Leave Law (“Sick Leave Law”), which was enacted on March 18, 2020. (A copy of the guidance can be found here.) As discussed in our previous blog post, the Sick Leave Law requires New York employers to provide varying levels of paid and unpaid sick leave (depending on employer size and net income) and access to expanded paid family leave and temporary disability benefits to employees subject to an order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19. All employees, regardless of the size of their employers, are entitled to job protection upon their returns from leave. The Guidance (which supplements the DOL’s earlier guidance on the use of leave) is summarized below: An employee who returns to work following a period of mandatory quarantine or isolation need not be tested before returning to work, with a limited exception for nursing home staff. If, however, an employee subsequently tests positive for COVID-19, the employee must cease reporting to work and is entitled to leave under the COVID-19 Sick Leave Law (“COVID-19 Sick Leave”) even if the employee already received sick leave for the first period of quarantine or isolation. Similarly, an employee who...