Q: Our company has several locations in New Jersey where our employees work in proximity to customers and vendors. Can you please provide details on Governor Murphy’s recent order implementing new workplace health and safety protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: On October 28, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order establishing new health and safety requirements for employers with employees who are physically present in the workplace. Effective November 5, the order establishes minimum standards for all public and private employers to protect employees, customers, and others who are present in the workplace.
The good news is that many New Jersey employers have implemented at least some of these requirements already. On the other hand, employers who are behind the curve should take steps toward compliance right away, given that failure to do so could result in stiff penalties. The key requirements for employers under the order are as follows:
- Employers must ensure all individuals in the workplace maintain physical distancing of six feet whenever feasible. If social distancing is not possible due to the nature of the work, the employer must take additional steps, for example, by installing barriers if space allows.
- All employees and visitors over the age of two must wear face masks at all times, unless workplace logistics permit social distancing of six feet or more, the employee works alone in a room separated from other individuals, or in situations where masks are “impracticable” given the nature of the work.
- For employees requesting a mask requirement exception due to a disability, employers may require medical documentation to support an employee’s request for an accommodation.
- Employers must provide sanitation supplies (hand sanitizer/wipes, masks) at no cost to employees, customers, and visitors.
- Employers must ensure that employees regularly wash their hands, which may include providing additional break time or rearranging the workplace to facilitate better access to handwashing facilities.
- Businesses must routinely clean and disinfect all “high-touch” areas in accordance with guidance from the state’s Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Prior to every shift, employers must conduct health checks of employees, which may include temperature screening, health questionnaires, and visual assessment of symptoms. Anyone with symptoms indicating potential illness must be separated from other individuals immediately and sent home.
- Employers must promptly notify employees of any potential exposure in the workplace, while observing confidentiality requirements under the American with Disabilities Act and other applicable laws.
The order also directs the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development to implement intake procedures for employee complaints relating to an employer’s failure to meet the new standards. Penalties for failing to comply with the new rules include potential closure of the business along with significant fines, as well as potential incarceration of up to six months for more serious violations.
As mentioned above, for many beleaguered employers across the state, the new requirements under the order merely formalize the health and safety measures already in place. However, given that failure to comply with the order could result in substantial penalties, the time is now for employers to ensure compliance. Employers who have not met all the new requirements should note that, under the new order, the commissioner of the Department of Health is authorized to develop procedures for on-site investigations of employee complaints, which may be coordinated with relevant federal agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It is not unreasonable to speculate that, with the impending shift in the executive branch, we can expect more vigorous regulatory action by OSHA and other federal and state agencies charged with monitoring workplace safety. As such, employers presently not in compliance with the regulations should review the order and adjust workplace logistics accordingly.