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What protections exist for NJ employees returning to work.

Gov. Phil Murphy has modified his previous executive order, which closed all non-essential businesses, construction projects and recreational and entertainment businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting at 6 a.m. Monday, May 18, non-essential retail and construction businesses will be allowed to resume operation. Retail companies can reopen only for curbside pickup, and employees must follow all mitigation requirements by the state.

How are workers protected during a pandemic?

With restrictions easing across the country, many workers remain anxious about possible exposure to the virus when returning to work, but fear losing their jobs if they refuse to show up. These so-called "non-essential" workers may not be protected under New Jersey's Workers' Compensation Act if they contract the virus due to their job. However, three federal laws may offer some protection:

  • OSH Act: While it may be difficult to file a coronavirus-related claim under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the law allows employees to refuse to come to work if they believe unsafe conditions exist at their workplace.
  • NLRA: The National Labor Relations Act also allows workers to refuse to come to work if they feel unsafe, and it prohibits employers from retaliating against any employee who goes on "strike for health and safety reasons."
  • FFCRA: The newly-enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was mainly touted for economic reasons, also offers new or expanded worker protections. For instance, some workers who contract or are suspected of contracting COVID-19 can receive up to two weeks of sick pay at their regular rate.

Understand your rights to have a healthy and safe workplace

Under the governor's modified order, all businesses must follow strict protocols for their workers and customers, including social distancing, contactless interactions with customers and many others. If you contract COVID-19 or sustain any other injuries while on the job, an experienced workers' compensation attorney can help you file a claim and get the relief you are entitled to receive.

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