On March 9, 2020, Governor Philip D. Murphy signed Executive Order No. 103 (EO-103) in response to the Coronavirus disease (“COVID-19”) invoking “a State of Emergency pursuant to N.J.S.A. App. A:9-33 et seq. and a Public Health Emergency as contemplated by N.J.S.A. 26:13-1 et seq.” Executive Order No. 103 further prohibits any political subdivision of the State, including counties and municipalities, from enforcing any “rule, regulation, ordinance, or resolution, which will or might in any way, conflict with any of the provisions of the Orders, or which will in any way interfere with or impede the achievement of the purpose of the Orders.”
In furtherance of Executive Order No. 103, on March 10, 2020, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission (“CSC”) adopted “Guidelines For State Employee Leave Time And Staffing – COVID-19.” (“CSC Guidelines”) While the CSC Guidelines are not directly applicable to County and Municipal employees, they are meant to offer guidance to local employers regarding implementing effective steps to manage the shared responsibility to protect the health and well-being of New Jersey residents. While not mandated, and in an effort to seek guidance in the development of policies and procedures concerning COVID-19, most counties and municipalities are either abiding by the CSC Guidelines or utilizing them as guidance in implementing their own policies and procedures.
On March 16, 2020, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order 104 (EO-104). EO-104 mandates that all public, private, and parochial preschool program premises, and elementary and secondary schools, including charter and renaissance schools, shall be closed to students beginning on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, and shall remain closed as long as EO-104 remains in effect. While EO-104 is greatly needed to suppress the spread of COVID-19, the closing of New Jersey’s schools has placed great stress upon thousands of families throughout our State. As a result of these school closures, many First Responders like other parents in our State, are currently experiencing child care issues or will experience child care issues in the immediate future. Rest assured, no one expected that such a drastic, statewide response would be needed to stop the spread of this world-wide pandemic and, as a result, no one has had ample time to put plans into place to adequately cope with such a situation.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, nowhere, within EO-103, EO-104 or the CSC Guidelines does it state that First Responders are excluded from the orders and that the rules and regulations have no applicability to their urgent familial needs. To the contrary, the CSC Guidelines state : “Government operations need flexibility to address staffing capabilities to ensure essential operational needs are met. Similarly, employees require greater latitude in applicable leave time procedures to prevent further spread of the virus and to prioritize their health and the health of their immediate family members.”
Unfortunately we have encountered some public employers that have taken an extremely inflexible position in granting First Responders time off from work to address unexpected and unplanned child care needs. Such a position not only violates the legal provisions espoused in Governor Murphy’s Executive Orders, but also dismisses the cooperative effort that is needed between labor and management in these most difficult times. Instead of enacting policies that have no concern for the personal and familial needs of First Responders, employers are urged to sit with Union Leadership in an effort to develop a Continuity of Operations Plans (COOPs) that will ensure that essential services are delivered while being mindful of our First Responders human and familial needs.