Effective 6:00 am on Thursday, November 5, 2020, pursuant to Governor Phil Murphy’s October 28, 2020 Executive Order 192 (“EO 192” and “Order”), every New Jersey business which operates with employees and customers physical present at the worksite, will be required to comply with the State’s new COVID-19 workplace safety protocols. The Order is part of Governor Murphy’s response to the State’s worsening pandemic and the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (“OSHA”) decision not to issue COVID-19 specific standards. In addition to the enactment of new workplace safety rules, the Order establishes a new State complaint and investigation procedure to address non-compliance.
The Executive Order applies to every New Jersey business, non-profit, governmental or educational entity (identified by the Order as an “employer”), not specifically excluded and referenced below, which requires or permits its employees to be physically present at the workplace. Pursuant to the Order, employers are required to do the following:
The Order does not apply when its new workplace safety protocols interfere with the operational duties of any first responders, emergency management personnel, emergency dispatchers, health care personnel, public health personnel, court personnel, law enforcement and corrections personnel, hazardous materials responders, transit workers, child protection and child welfare personnel, housing and shelter personnel, military employees, and governmental employees engaged in emergency response activities.
Additionally, the Order does not apply to the United States government or any religious institutions, to the extent that the application of the Order’s protocols “would prohibit the free exercise of religion.”
The Order authorizes the Commissioner of the DOH, in consultation with the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“DLWD”), to develop a process for the intake and investigation of complaints. Pursuant to that investigative procedure, the Agencies will have new broader authority, which includes the power to issue subpoenas, conduct workplace inspections, and facilitate employee and/or employer interviews. The Order makes clear, at a minimum, the Agencies’ process must provide employers with “an opportunity to correct the alleged or confirmed deficiency.” Where appropriate, the Agencies will coordinate and refer complaints to OSHA and Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (“PEOSH”).
The Order explains that the Agencies have the authority to issues penalties for violations pursuant to N.J.S.A. § App. A:9-49 (“Violations as disorderly conduct; penalty; prosecution”) and N.J.S.A. Stat. Ann. § App. A:9-50, (“Aiding or abetting violation”) up to and including closure of the facility by the DOH under N.J.S.A. §26:13-8 (“Commissioner’s powers and duties over facilities during public health emergency; hearing.”).
The Governor explained, through the Executive Order, that the purpose of EO 192 is to “supplement” the requirements set forth in Executive Orders and/or Administrative Orders 122, 125, 142, 147, 149, 155, 157, 165, 175, 181 and 183. Paragraph 2(e) of EO 142, which limited workgroups to fewer than 10 people, is rescinded by EO 192.
Training and Notices
The Order directs the Commissioner of the DLWD to establish a program to provide compliance and safety training (in-person and virtually) for employers and employees on the new health and safety protocols (subject to funding availability). The Order also requires the development and issuance of notices and informational materials to inform workers of their rights under the new Order. This of course translates into a new positing obligation for employers once the DLWD develops its workplace guidance.
As a result of the Order, all New Jersey employers should adopt written COVID-19 protocols. Employers should also anticipate having to expend resources to ensure those protocols are compliant with the Order and prepared to respond to additional Agency investigations and/or inquiries. Employer should also expect that as a result of the new workplace safety protocol’s publicity, through compulsory postings, and an increase in potential workplace safety complaints, they may observe an increase in whistleblower claims.
Employers should take this opportunity to review their Human Resource Department and Workplace Safety policies and practices and ensure they are up to date with the many changes in this developing area of the law.