An executive order issued by Governor Phil Murphy on October 28 created a new set of safety rules for workplaces operating amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The new restrictions took effect November 6.
Murphy cited federal inaction as the impetus for issuing the new order, saying in a statement, “The federal government has failed to provide all workers the proper standards and protections that they deserve. Today’s executive order closes that gap to help ensure the health and safety of our workforce during this unprecedented time.”
The mandates apply to every business, nonprofit, or government or educational entity in the state that requires its workers to be physically present in a workspace.
The requirements, with limited exceptions, are:
• Require workers and customers to maintain at least six feet of distance from one another, to the maximum extent possible;
• Require everyone to wear face masks, except when an employee is at their workstation at least six feet from others, or is alone in a walled space such as an office. Employers may be authorized to prevent individuals who refuse to wear a mask from entering the worksite.
• Provide face masks for their employees;
• Provide approved sanitization materials for employees and visitors at no cost to those individuals;
• Ensure that employees practice hand hygiene and provide employees with sufficient break time for that purpose;
• Routinely clean and disinfect all high-touch areas in accordance with DOH and CDC guidelines;
• Prior to each shift, conduct daily health checks, such as temperature screenings, visual symptom checking, self-assessment checklists, and/or health questionnaires, consistent with CDC guidance;
• Do not allow sick employees to enter workplace and follow requirements of applicable leave laws; and
• Promptly notify employees of any known exposure to COVID-19 at the worksite.
The order met with swift resistance from state business advocacy groups. In a statement, New Jersey Business and Industry Association president and CEO Michele Siekerka noted the heavy burden the new order places on businesses already operating in a difficult environment.
“While we have always shared the governor’s priority to establish workplaces that follow federal safety guidelines, today’s directive again makes New Jersey an outlier in terms of mandates — without any balance whatsoever for the concerns of employers.
“Our policymakers must strike a better balance toward trying to help our employers by prioritizing legislation for liability protections supporting those businesses that are doing the right thing already — in addition to bringing them more sorely needed resources.
“Sadly, we heard no such balance from the governor today. We only heard about applying more financial burdens on the same job creators who simultaneously have many of the greatest capacity restrictions in the nation.
“Further, most businesses already have protective safeguards in place and are critically concerned about safeguarding their workforce and their workplaces. Mechanisms already exist to call out bad actors and hold them accountable. There is no need to now mandate additional costs on the good actors through unnecessary policy. In fact, more resources should be
“We once again urge the governor and our policymakers to put a pause on any further mandates, recognizing that New Jersey’s business climate was already consistently ranked amongst the worst in the nation pre-COVID because of the excessive cost of doing business. Further mandates only exacerbate that.”