The gradual reopening of society during the COVID-19 pandemic presents certain challenges for employers and employees to navigate. One of these involves the decision to bring employees back into the office rather than allow them to continue working remotely. Employers must be extremely diligent in following all state mandated health guidelines when bringing employees back to the office. Employees need to understand that they have rights in the event that they are terminated or retaliated against in any way for filing a whistleblower complaint about the safety of their work environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Are My Rights as an Employee?
Governor Murphy has issued several executive orders and passed legislation to protect the health and safety of employees during the pandemic. If your employer fails to adhere to state mandated regulations regarding safe working conditions, you can file a complaint with several agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration (OSHA). You can also request to continue working remotely to ensure safer working conditions, provided that you are able to perform your job responsibilities in a remote working environment.
If you believe you have been terminated or suffered reprisal from your employer due to insisting on remote work or complaining to a government agency about unsafe work conditions, you may be able to file a lawsuit under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). CEPA prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who disclose policies that are in violation of a law or is incompatible with public health and safety mandates.
Filing a Claim under CEPA
When filing a CEPA claim based on unsafe working conditions, you must demonstrate one of the following elements:
- Identify the specific law, rule or regulation violated by your employer
- Object to a policy or practice that is incompatible with a clear public policy mandate regarding health or safety
It’s important to understand that your claim must be based on actual violations of health and safety orders. You are unlikely to achieve a successful outcome to your claim if it is strictly based on your personal beliefs regarding your employer’s practices. That being said, you won’t need to prove your employer is in violation of a Governor’s Executive Order; you must simply demonstrate that you had an objectively reasonable belief that a violation occurred.
Teleworking During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 107 states that “all businesses or non-profits in the State, whether closed or open to the public, must accommodate their workforce, wherever practicable, for telework or work-from-home arrangements.” In addition, this Executive Order doesn’t require you to demonstrate a specific COVID-19 reasons for requesting remote working privileges. While this Executive Order remains in place, your employer will need to demonstrate that permitting remote working isn’t conducive to performing your job responsibilities. If you have been terminated and your employer isn’t able to meet these requirements, you may have a valid claim under CEPA.
Green Savits Can Help
If you’ve been unfairly retaliated against for objecting to work conditions or requesting to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Green Savits can help. Our attorneys have over 50 years of combined experience fighting for the rights of employees in New Jersey, and we can help you seek the remedies to which you’re entitled by law.
Please contact Green Savits using the form on this page or call 973-695-7777 today to schedule a consultation. We serve clients in Northern and Central New Jersey.