As the COVID pandemic evolves, so do the employment laws in New Jersey and across the country as it relates to being fired for or missing work due ot COVID or quarantining. Federal and New Jersey state protections that were enacted at the beginning of the pandemic have expired. But many workers still face hardships and missing work because of a COVID-19 exposure or illness. In this blog post, we’ll review if it is legal for an employer to fire you for having COVID in New Jersey.
Early COVID Pandemic Protections for Workers in New Jersey
In the early days of the pandemic, federal and state governments enacted several laws designed to protect and support workers who became infected with COVID-19 or had to care for a family member who did. Public Health and a State of Emergency were declared in New Jersey. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) offered expansive protections for workers that expired at the end of 2020.
New Jersey enacted COVID-19 regulations for businesses and employees as well as made workers compensation benefits more easily obtainable for essential workers. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy specifically enacted a law that prohibited an employer from firing or otherwise punishing an employee who requested time off or took time off from work based on a medical professional’s determination that the employee had, or was likely to have, COVID-19. However, that law only applied during the COVID-19 Pandemic and related Public Health Emergency and State Emergency and expired on June 4, 2021.
If you were fired for having COVID-19 during these periods -- in 2020 or before June 4, 2021-- you may have been wrongfully terminated. If you believe that may apply to your case, it’s in your best interest to contact an employment lawyer to discuss your case.
Earned Sick Leave & FMLA
As of this writing, October 2021, most of these early COVID pandemic protections have expired. That being said, there are still protections for workers that may apply to your situation such as New Jersey’s Paid Sick Leave law and the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Earned sick leave is the law in New Jersey for most employers. Employees are entitled to be paid their regular salary or earnings for up to 40 hours of paid sick leave to care for themselves or a family member, per year. Exceptions are for construction employees operating under a union, per-diem healthcare workers, independent contractors and most public employees who are covered under other policies.
FMLA also offers protections to workers who must take time off to care due to illness or injury or to care for a family member with an illness. This law allows up to 12 weeks off in a calendar year to employees who have been with their employer for longer than 12 months, worked more than 1250 hours and who’s employer has more than 50 employees in a 75 mile radius. New Jersey’s Family Medical Leave Act (NJFLMA) expands the definition of family member and adds additional timeframes. The main goal of these laws is to protect the employee’s job -- that is, your employer cannot fire you for missing work and must offer you the same or equivalent job upon your return to work. FMLA and NJFMLA do not require employers to pay you for the time off.
Fired for Having COVID in New Jersey Today
New Jersey is an at-will employment state. This means that an employee can quit anytime but also means that the employer can terminate an employee at any time without cause or justification. Even in at-will employment states, an employer cannot terminate an employee for any illegal reason.
If you believe you were wrongfully fired for having COVID in New Jersey, you may have a case for wrongful termination. In a successful claim, you may be awarded monetary damages for back pay, front pay, medical expenses, and punitive damages. In some cases, you may also receive reinstatement of employment or your employment benefits.
Brandon J. Broderick, Employment Law, New Jersey and New York
If you believe you were wrongfully terminated or are experiencing wrongful conduct, discrimination or harassment in the workplace, Brandon J. Broderick, Attorney at Law, can help. Rated one of New Jersey’s top employment law firms, we are focused on client care and passionately pursuing the best interests of our clients. Contact us today for a free consultation.