Governor Phil Murphy signs a new executive order requiring employers to mandate social distancing, hand-washing breaks, and mask compliance, with enforcement mechanisms from the Dept. of Labor behind it.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 28, 2020
In the absence of uniform federal health and safety standards for workers related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, New Jersey is rolling out its own workplace mandates next week.
On Wednesday, Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order that requires basic COVID-19 workplace protections for all private- and public-sector employees, and which authorizes the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development to investigate those employers that don’t toe the regulatory line.
At a minimum, employers must screen all workers for COVID-19 symptoms prior to every shift, ensure that they maintain a six-foot distance from one another wherever possible, and notify them of any known COVID exposures.
The order also mandates that employers provide their workers with face masks and access to hand sanitizer, plus regular breaks to wash their hands and disinfect work areas, as well as enforcing mask compliance on the job site.
Finally, the new rules include “a collaborative enforcement mechanism to ensure that complaints of non-compliance are properly addressed,” Murphy said. Everything takes effect at 6 a.m. November 5.
“I’m taking this step in part because the federal government hasn’t taken this step,” Murphy said in a press conference announcing the executive order.
“As more sectors of our economy have opened, and as the federal government remains inactive on the sidelines, we will ensure that every worker stands under the same umbrella of protections,” he said.
U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross (D, NJ-01) attacked the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for not moving forward with recommendations that would improve workplace safety regulations during the pandemic.
“The standards to help fight this pandemic have been sitting on federal OSHA’s desk since March,” Norcross said. “It’s an absolute failure that they have not answered the call, the pleas from working families, that we’re all in this together.
“It is a responsibility to have a safe workplace,” he continued. “This framework is sending a message back to Washington that you can’t ignore this, it will not go away. People are literally dying on jobs.”
New Jersey Labor Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo urged workers both to follow the safety protocols and report workplaces that don’t via a new online form scheduled to go live next week.
“Help us support and strengthen employers willing to work with us, lead by example, and serve as models for reopening during the pandemic,” Asaro-Angelo said. “Alternately, help us identify employers who shun the rules.”
Those employers who are out of compliance with the new standard may be subject to investigations into their labor practices overall, the commissioner said.
“If an employer can’t follow the most basic laws to take care of their workers’ health and safety, other parts of our department—those who investigate wages and employee misclassification violations—may have to get involved to see what other corners that employer is cutting, or make referrals to our partners across other state and federal enforcement agencies, or licensing agencies, to investigate what is going on in that business,” he said.
“This is about the safety of all of us.”
Megan Chambers, Co-Manager of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Services Joint Board, at the 80,000-member Workers United labor union, said the new standards take the guesswork out of workplace safety and responsibility during the pandemic.
“We can’t leave it to employers to decide which CDC recommendations to implement or not,” Chambers said. “It’s not a matter of convenience, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency, it’s a matter of health or sickness, and it’s a matter of life or death.
“This order makes it clear that all employers in the state of New Jersey are required to provide face masks at their expense, and to employ a full array of protections to keep employees from contracting this virus at work,” she said.
“Protection at all workplaces is essential to containing this virus,” Chambers said.
“Working people need and deserve to know that they are not bringing the coronavirus home to their communities, [and]stopping the spread in low-wage workplaces is just essential to protecting everybody in the community,” she said.
Read our ongoing round-up of COVID-19 coverage here.
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