Author: Elizabeth Cowit

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...

The DOL Amends FFCRA Paid Leave Rule

The United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (“DOL”) recently announced amendments to regulations regarding the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). By way of background, and as discussed in detail in our prior blog post, the FFCRA provides two types of leave to employees of covered employers (private employers with fewer than 500 employees and public employers of any size, with certain exceptions) – emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) and expanded family and medical leave (EFML). An employee may be eligible for 80 hours of EPSL if he or she is unable to work or telework (without regard to the employee’s length of employment) if the employee: Is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19; Has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19; Is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; Is caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order, or has “been advised” to self-quarantine; Is caring for a child, because the child’s school or place of care has been closed (or the child’s care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons; or Is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health...

New Jersey Supreme Court Confirms Enforceability of Arbitration Agreements Concerning Transportation Workers Under the NJAA

In Colon v. Strategic Delivery Solutions, LLC and Arafa v. Health Express. Corp., plaintiffs contracted with corporate defendants to provide transportation and delivery services as independent contractors and signed arbitration agreements governing the terms and conditions under which they were to provide services. The agreements at issue explicitly referenced the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), but neither referenced the New Jersey Arbitration Act (“NJAA”). In both cases, plaintiffs brought claims in New Jersey Superior Court asserting they were misclassified as independent contractors and alleging violations of wage payment and wage hour laws, and in both cases, defendants sought to compel arbitration and dismiss the lawsuits. Both trial courts granted the respective employers’ motions to dismiss the claims and compel arbitration, and plaintiffs appealed these decision to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. As detailed in a prior blog post, in June 2019, different panels of the Appellate Division issued divergent holdings concerning the appeals. The Colon panel observed that both the FAA and NJAA “favor arbitration” as a way to resolve disputes, and that the NJAA “governs all agreements to arbitrate” entered into on or after January 1, 2003 (with limited exceptions that did not apply). It further found that the FAA “does not occupy the entire field of arbitration” and, therefore, the...

EEOC Updates “COVID-19 Technical Assistance Questions and Answers” with a Focus on Return-to-Work Guidance

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is continuing to offer COVID-19 related guidance to support employers and employees in navigating the workplace during the pandemic. As we discussed in a previous blog post, the EEOC updated its Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act guidance (first published in 2009) to specifically address the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the Pandemic Preparedness guidance, the EEOC has issued What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws, technical assistance guidance that contains numerous COVID-19 related questions and answers. Similar to the pandemic preparedness guidance, the technical assistance addresses employer’s obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), specifically as they relate to accommodation requests and medical exams due to COVID-19, as well as other COVID-19 related workplace issues. The EEOC has continued to regularly update the technical assistance since its initial publication in March 2020, with the most recent updates in June 2020. The EEOC has explained that EEO laws like the ADA and Rehabilitation Act continue to apply during the COVID-19 pandemic, but do not interfere with or prevent employers from following guidelines and suggestions made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or state and local public health authorities concerning preventative...

Reopening Considerations for New Jersey: What Employers Need to Know About OSHA

As New Jersey begins to reopen under Governor Murphy’s reopening plan and more employees prepare to return to their physical workplaces, employers must continue to navigate a myriad of federal, state, and local guidance regarding how to best protect their workforces and prevent the spread of COVID-19. While many employers, particularly those outside of the construction industry, may not be used to regular dealings with the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), all employers must consider OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidelines as they prepare reopening plans. While OSHA’s reopening guidance is advisory in nature, employers should remember that the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (“OSH Act”) General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1)) requires all employers to provide employees with workplaces that are free from recognized harms that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm, which could include exposure to COVID-19. Thus, employers should be careful to ensure that their reopening plans comply with OSHA’s guidelines (along with more stringent state or local guidelines if they exist). The OSHA Guidelines categorize risk of worker exposure to COVID-19 from low to very high and lay out specific measures of protection that are recommended at each risk level. Employers should consult this portion of the Guidelines for specific guidance. The Guidelines also outline more...

New York Issues Guidance on Use of Sick Leave and Paid Family Leave for COVID-19

As discussed previously, New York recently passed a COVID-19 sick leave law that provides job protection and paid leave for employees who are subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 (“COVID-19 quarantine leave” or “quarantine leave”). New York State has since published guidance (“Guidance”) and FAQs relating to the COVID-19 sick leave law (“FAQs”), which discuss, among other things, how employees may be compensated under the new law, through a combination of benefits that include COVID-19 sick leave, New York’s Paid Family Leave (PFL), and short-term disability (DBL) benefits while in quarantine. Under the COVID-19 sick leave law, as clarified by the Guidance and FAQs: An employee who works for a small employer – one with ten or fewer employees as of January 1, 2020 (with a net income of less than $1 million in the prior tax year) – and is subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation issued by the state of New York, department of health, local board of health, or any other government entity authorized to issue such an order due to COVID-19 (“quarantine order”) is entitled to unpaid sick leave until the termination of the quarantine order. The employee may also be eligible to receive compensation for the duration...