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New Jersey unveils "right to refuse to return to work"

The administration of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently unveiled what is being called "the right to refuse to return to work." The administration touts it as protection for workers in the state from work conditions in which they could be exposed to the coronavirus.

With retail shops, restaurants, gyms, outdoor recreation and nail and hair salons opening or soon-to-open, it is likely that many of the state's 1.2 million workers receiving unemployment compensation benefits could be called to return to work.

While some pandemic metrics are declining in New Jersey - new cases, hospitalizations and fatalities - those same measurements are rising elsewhere in the nation, prompting concerns of a second pandemic wave.

According to the recently released state guidelines, if an employer isn't adhering to health and sanitization guidelines, and an employee believes the business isn't making an effort to guard against the virus, the worker could quit or decline work or refuse to return to their job and still qualify for state unemployment benefits.

By law, those benefits are only for those unable to work "through no fault of their own." The workers in the described scenario would fall into that category, New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said.

"[O]ur laws make clear where a worker raises substantial health and safety concerns, and the employer fails to remedy such concerns, that worker may lawfully refuse to return to work and continue collecting [unemployment] benefits."

However, the guidelines state that the employee would need to show that "working conditions are so unsafe, unhealthful, or dangerous as to constitute good cause attributable to such work."

The commissioner said simple dissatisfaction won't be enough for a worker to make their case, warning that the determination of an unsafe workplace will be "highly fact-specific" and will not be "easily met."

Return-to-work policies, procedures and concerns can be addressed individually or on an ongoing basis with our Morristown employment law firm.

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