As announced at the White House Press Briefing on the evening of April 8, 2020, yesterday, the Center for Disease Control has modified their guidelines for First Responders that may have been exposed to individuals infected with COVID-19.  The new guidelines that were most recently posted on the CDC’s Website are meant to assist agencies in “ensuring continuity of operations of essential functions.” Based on this premonition, the CDC now advises that critical infrastructure workers (which includes First Responders) may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.

In accordance with the guidelines, a potential exposure means “being a household contact” or “having close contact within 6 feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19”.  The time frame for having contact or exposure with an individual is defined as 48 hours before the individual became symptomatic.

Based on this new guidance, if a First Responder has been exposed in accordance with the two criteria listed above, but remains asymptomatic, the employer may make the decision of sending the employee back to work so long as the following procedures and precautionary measures are taken both prior and during their work shift:

  • The First Responder must be Pre-Screened prior to the Start of the Shift: Employers must measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to the start of the work shift. Temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
  • The First Responder must be Regularly Monitored During the Shift: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
  • The First Responder Must Wear a Mask during the Work Shift: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure.
  • The First Responder must Practice Social Distancing: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
  • The Employer must Disinfect and Clean Work Spaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

It is incredibly important to recognize that these guidelines are a departure from the CDC’s previous guidelines which mandated that all employees exposed to an individual that is confirmed positive for COVID-19 self quarantine for period of fourteen (14) days.  Political Pundits have stated that these new guidelines were put in place as a response to the growing shortage of critical infrastructure employees due to the fourteen (14) day “exposure” quarantine period as well as this is the Trump Administration’s first action of bringing “exposed” employees back into the workforce sooner rather than later.

However in light of these new guidelines, First Responders, must remember the following:

  • Implementing the change in the policy is not mandatory.  In other words, your employer can continue following the previous guidelines of  self quarantining all employees that had direct exposure with an individual that has been confirmed positive for COVID-19.  With that being said, if the employer does choose to implement the new guidelines it will be much harder for us to enforce the old guidelines for local employees (County and Municipal).
  • If your employer chooses to follow the new guidelines, the demand for employer provided PPE is now more important than ever as the chance of infection will become greater.  Based on this fact, employers must do whatever is necessary to source the proper PPE.
  • First Responders that have been exposed must be tested immediately.  The New Jersey State P.B.A. has located and identified Testing Facilities that are dedicated to First Responders.  These facilities are open to all Law Enforcement Officers, not just PBA members.  Therefore, if you are a First Responder and you have been exposed to a person that has tested positive for COVID-19, get a test as soon as possible.  This is especially true if your Department adopts and implements the new CDC guidelines referenced in this Article.

As Always, thank you for your service and please stay safe and healthy out there.

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which provides paid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and paid sick leave for absences resulting from COVID-19. Here are some important points regarding the impact of the law as well as its application:  

  1. The law took effect on April 2, 2020, and ends on December 31, 2020. It applies to all employers with 500 employees or less. Employees with 30 days of employment are eligible for benefits.
  2. Emergency FMLA – Job-protected family leave is provided to employees to take care of a child under 18 years of age who is home because their school or daycare has been closed because of COVID-19. The first 10 days of this FMLA leave is unpaid. Thereafter, employees must be paid up to two-thirds of their salary and benefits will vary between full-time and part-time employees. This number is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 in total for each employee. Employers with 50 employees or less can apply for an exemption to the law if they can show that paying this benefit would “jeopardize the viability of the business.” Employers with 25 employees or less are exempt if an employee’s position is eliminated due to economic conditions.
  3. Paid Sick Leave – The law provides 80 hours of paid sick leave to full-time employees. Paid sick leave is also available for part-time employees on a pro-rata basis. The leave can be used because an employee has been ordered by the government or a health care provided to quarantine if they are seeking medical assistance because of COVID-19 symptoms, if they are taking care of an individual who has been quarantined or ordered to self-quarantine, or if they are taking care of a child whose school or daycare has closed because of COVID-19. Paid sick leave is to be paid at the employee’s salary with the following caps: $200 per day and $2,000 total per employee to care for a child or family member; $511 per day and a total of $5,110 total per employee to care for themselves. Employers with 50 employees or less can apply for an exemption if paying sick leave would “jeopardize the viability of the business.”
  4. Tax Credits – Employers are eligible for reimbursement of 100% of the amount paid under this emergency legislation through tax credits.
  5. ExemptionsThe FFCRA actually provides for an exemption for “Emergency Responders” who may be excluded from paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave by their employer under the law. Under the FFCRA, an emergency responder is an employee who is necessary for the provision of transport, care, health care, comfort, and nutrition of such patients, or whose services are otherwise needed to limit the spread of COVID-19. This includes but is not limited to military or national guard, law enforcement officers, correctional institution personnel, fire fighters, emergency medical services personnel, physicians, nurses, public health personnel, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, emergency management personnel, 911 operators, public works personnel, and persons with skills or training in operating specialized equipment or other skills needed to provide aid in a declared emergency as well as individuals who work for such facilities employing these individuals and whose work is necessary to maintain the operation of the facility.

Because the law exempts “emergency responders,” most law enforcement personnel should not anticipate that the benefits provided under the FFCRA will be offered by your respective employer. However, the law may hopefully offer greater benefits to some of your spouses and family members working outside of the field of law enforcement in terms of dealing with the current crisis.

As reported by firerescue1.com, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said a fourth stimulus package could include hazard pay for those on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Mnuchin told CNN Monday that his department has not yet begun work on a fourth stimulus package, as it works to implement the third package passed by the Senate last week, but that hazard pay for first responders and healthcare workers is “definitely something we will put in the next bill.”

Mnuchin said he agreed with President Donald Trump when he said on “Fox and Friends” Monday morning that his administration was looking into including hazard pay for healthcare workers, some of whom don’t qualify for the checks included in the previous package, according to CNN.

The $2 trillion legislation signed by Trump on Friday includes several provisions with implications for fire and EMS departments, including $45 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund, $16 billion to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile of PPE and medications and $100 million for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program.

The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) said in an open letter last week that the package does not provide enough support for EMS agencies and providers, demanding direct funding to departments and immediate protections for personnel, including priority access to testing and reimbursements for childcare.

As you might expect, this could be major news for all New Jersey Public Safety Officers as first responders.  In fact, our office was in the process of attempting to secure such hazard pay for many of our clients prior to this news breaking. Being on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis has put not only the health of  Officers and other first responders in jeopardy, but their families and loved ones as well.  If such a measure is passed, however, this would provide those officers with the compensation to which they should be entitled given the circumstances. As such, please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain updates as they become available regarding this important topic.

On Thursday, March 26, 2020, on behalf of ten thousand (10,000) New Jersey State Correctional Police Officers, I sent correspondence to the Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Corrections and the Acting Director for the New Jersey State Juvenile Justice Commission requesting that they petition the Governor for the State of New Jersey to establish, stand up and fund a COVID-19 testing facility that is dedicated to New Jersey State Sworn Correctional Personnel.  Despite the fact that the letter explained in explicit detail the need for the facility, I was questioned by a media outlet yesterday if such a facility was truly necessary in light of the lack of tests available to the general public.  I provided an explanation to the outlet in more “layman’s” terms and felt compelled to do so again in this article.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has reached inside New Jersey State Correctional Facilities.  Putting aside County Jails, in state facilities alone there have been eleven (11) employees that have returned positive test results for the virus.  Of the eleven, over half of the positive results were sworn law enforcement officers.  To the Department’s credit, they have been strictly adhering to the CDC guidelines in an effort to stop the spread of the virus and eradicate it from the institutions.  Based on this fact, any officer that was directly exposed to the positively impacted officer has been ordered into self-quarantine for a period of fourteen (14) days in an effort to stop the virus from spreading.  The fourteen (14) day period of self-quarantine requires an officer to absent himself or herself from their workplace for a minimum of fourteen (14) days whether they are inflicted with the virus or not.  Thereafter, if they are diagnosed as having contracted coronavirus, their absence will be longer than fourteen (14) days.  However, if they are asymptomatic, they will still be required to be absent from work for fourteen (14) days under the current CDC guidelines.

In New Jersey and across America, for various reasons too numerous to be listed here, only individuals that are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 are permitted to be tested.  Therefore a Correctional Police Officer that has been exposed to an affected individual may not be tested unless he or she demonstrates CDC recognized symptomology.  New Jersey State correctional facilities require numerous Correctional Police Officers to work in very close quarters alongside one another during a work shift in an effort to manage the inmates in their care, custody and control.  As a result of these working conditions, for each officer that has tested positive for the virus, on average, twenty (20) other officers have had to be removed from the workplace and ordered to self-quarantine for a period of fourteen (14) days.  To put such a scenario in baseball or football terms, one positive result takes approximately twenty (20) players out of the game and unfortunately, “the bench” isn’t deep enough to accommodate losses such as this.  Therefore, multiple positive results within an institution at a single or overlapping time will be extremely problematic.  Such a situation will cause officers to be overworked which thereby has the potential to cause dangerous security problems.  This is a circumstances that no member of society wants to see happen.

So, the question that needs to be asked is: How will the dedicated testing facility help to alleviate this potentially debilitating problem?  The answer is simple—If we can test an asymptomatic officer soon after exposure and a negative result is returned, the officer can be returned to work thereby alleviating the potentially critical manpower shortage.  If the manpower issue is solved, the potential security problem is thereby alleviated.  Please understand that Correctional Police Officers are not looking for special treatment during this worldwide pandemic.  All that they want to do is to “get back into the game” sooner rather than later to ensure the safety and security of our State’s Citizens.

On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 110 (EO-110), directing all child care centers in New Jersey to certify by Friday, March 27, that they will solely serve as emergency child care centers for the children of essential workers. Child care centers that do not certify that they can and will exclusively care for these children of essential workers must close by Wednesday, April 1.

“Essential personnel are a vital part of our response and limiting child care to solely these individuals will assist in flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases, as well as provide our front-line workers with the critical services they need to get through this emergency,” said Governor Murphy. “A lack of child care cannot be a barrier for our essential employees, and while these workers commit themselves to our New Jersey family, we will commit ourselves to protecting their families.”

“Safe, dependable childcare has always been a necessity for working families,” said New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer. “It is even more crucial now for parents working in professions deemed essential during this public health crisis.  The state’s response to, and recovery from, the Novel Coronavirus really hinges on the skills and ability of our dedicated first responders and essential personnel. We need to do all we can to help them do their jobs without the worry and distraction of losing safe childcare options.”

“In this ongoing emergency, child care providers and staff who care for the children of essential workers are vitally important to our children and to the State’s response,” Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said. “We thank the entire child care workforce for their dedication and commitment every day, and especially during this difficult time.”

Among the directives, the Governor’s executive order directs:

  • The Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, in consultation with the Commissioners of the Departments of Education, Human Services, and Health, shall implement a plan permitting access to emergency child care services for the children of “essential persons.”
  • In order to be designated as an Emergency Child Care Center, any person or organization, requesting permission to stay open or resume operations on or after April 1, 2020, shall submit the certification form to the Commissioner of Children and Families for approval by Friday, March 27, 2020.  If the certification form demonstrates that it will provide child care services exclusively to “essential persons” during the school closure period, and that it will follow all applicable emergency child care standards, the Commissioner shall authorize it to remain open or resume operations as an emergency child care center.
  • Any child care centers, including those as defined in this executive order, that fail to timely certify shall be closed to the public as of Wednesday, April 1, 2020, and remain closed through the school closure period. Centers shall receive notice of the Commissioner of Children and Families’ certification decision by Monday, March 30, 2020.
  • Child care centers, for purposes of this order, include entities providing care on a regular basis for children aged 0-13, including licensed child care centers.
  • For purposes of this order, essential persons shall include, but not be limited to: 1) Health care workers, including staff working in health care facilities and in community-based services including home health and behavioral health; 2) law enforcement personnel, fire and emergency services personnel, and staff at correctional facilities; 3) individuals employed at emergency child care centers operating on or after April 1, 2020; 4) staff working for entities that provide essential social services, including, but not limited to, group home and shelter staff; 5) essential government employees who are unable to work from home, including child protection services workers, child welfare workers, foster care workers, unemployment compensation processing staff, and public health employees; and 6) certain critical workers, as defined by the Commissioner of DCF, at essential retail businesses, as defined in Executive Order No. 107 (2020) and subsequent Administrative Orders. The Commissioner of DCF shall have the authority to make changes to this list.

EO-110 should hopefully alleviate the impact that Executive Order No. 104 (EO-104) has had on law enforcement personnel and the many essential employees continuing to report for duty on a regular basis. EO-104, issued by Governor Murphy on March 16, 2020, mandated that all public, private, and parochial preschool programs, and elementary and secondary schools, including charter and renaissance schools, be closed to students as of Wednesday, March 18, 2020, and remain closed as long as EO-104 stays in effect. While EO-104 is greatly needed to suppress the spread of COVID-19, the closing of New Jersey’s schools placed great stress upon thousands of essential employees throughout the State of New Jersey. Fortunately, Governor Murphy has recognized the difficulty that closing the schools has caused in this regard as demonstrated by the issuance of this new executive order, EO-110.

 

As reported by NJ.Com, the City of Trenton opened a coronavirus testing center on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, to test the City’s first responders, namely firefighters, police, and EMS. In a statement, Mayor Reed Gusciora  announced the opening of the location, at the police impound lot on North Clinton Avenue.

Only first responders serving the City’s police, fire and EMS services can receive the test at the location as of now. The site had a soft opening Wednesday, but was formally opened today.

Connor Ilchert, a spokesman for Mayor Gusciora, said the tests the city has will be used for any first responder showing symptoms, who recently traveled to Europe or New York City, or who feels they were exposed to it on the job. To this end, he noted “They can’t work from home,” he said. “If they get a 911 call, they have to go out.”

During these uncertain times, it is welcoming to see a city looking out for the needs of first responders and the dangers they, as well as their loved ones, are facing on a daily basis.  We are hopeful that other cities, municipalities, towns, and the State will follow suit in the near future to ensure the health and well-being of all public safety officers going forward. As we know, first responders are critical to overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak and well being of the New Jersey citizenry as a whole.

As strange as this may sound, I currently feel extremely fortunate that for the past twelve days the attorneys and support personnel within our firm have had the ability to “quarantine” ourselves from the nuclear work space by separating from one another and working from individualized “remote” locations.  We took these steps before we were ordered by the government to do so because the tools of our trade are all located within a cloud based remote storage site accessible from any modern computer or internet based mobile system.  Thus, when the COVID-19 virus began to spread it simply made sense and was easy to go remote.  However this has not been the case for our State’s First Responders who are clearly “Essential Personnel” thus requiring them to report to work and make efforts to re-arrange their lives, attempt to get child care issues into line, and manage the nuances and idiosyncrasies of home life now that school is being taught from a remote location.  And just think, all of this had to take place and is still taking place while each and every one of them reports to workplaces that the rest of society has been banned or discouraged from entering.

In reviewing the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for practicing proper social distancing the American public is told to remain six feet apart from one another at all times and to wash our hands with soap and water as frequently as possible for a minimum time period of twenty seconds per wash.  However the National guidelines for practicing social distancing are not the same guidelines that apply to our law enforcement officers while they are on the job.  The guidance that the CDC provides to Law Enforcement Officers recognizes the difficulties associated with their employment when it comes to Social Distancing by stating:

  • If possible, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet.
  • Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available and illicit drugs are NOT suspected to be present, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

I bring this to everyone’s attention to demonstrate the practical realities that First Responders face on a daily basis during this national crisis.  However, different Law Enforcement jobs bring unique issues and problems.  Police Officers patrolling our streets have to respond to calls for service that demand that they enter houses and buildings that may be severely infected with the COVID-19 virus.  Each call for service presents this “unknown”.  On the other hand, Correctional Police Officers have their own concerns.  A prison or jail ushers in hundreds of people a day from the “outside” into a closed circulated environment.  This includes everyone from civilian and law enforcement personnel to newly booked and incarcerated prisoners.  Despite the very thorough screening processes that have been put in place, we all currently know that a person can be asymptomatic for weeks while still carrying the COVID-19 Virus.  In addition, in plain and simple terms, inmates and detainees can not be routinely managed safely from a distance of six feet.  Thus close contact is an inevitable consequence of the profession, and perfect social distancing is an impossibility.

All of this brings me to my point.  In speaking to many law enforcement officers this week, both Patrol Officers and Correctional Police Officers, it seems that some Administrations have taken the position of “rationing” Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  Not so much with the use of latex gloves as these items were being used by law enforcement officers long before the outbreak, but with the much needed disposable N95 Respirator Masks.  Many officers have informed me that they have not been issued masks by their respective correctional facility despite the fact that there are masks within the Department’s internal supply chain.  Instead, the masks are being withheld “until” there is a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 within the institution.  Recognizing that there is a shortage of NIOSH approved N95 Respirator Masks, common sense tells us that it is counter intuitive to “wait” until the virus is confirmed to be within the prison walls before we take measures to protect our officers.  Such a policy is reacting to the spread of the disease rather than proactively trying to prevent the spread of the disease.

Every officer that is reading this article most likely has a health and safety article or clause in their collective negotiations agreement that mandates that the administration meet and confer with your Local to discuss health and safety issues on a periodic basis.  Whether such an article or clause is present in the agreement or not, I urge all of our Union Leaders to call for these meetings, review the safety standards that have been put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, review what PPE is in the current supply coffers; and consider making demands that officers be permitted to use the same PRIOR to an outbreak occurring.  If the supply of PPE is inadequate, demand to know the resupply efforts being taken by the Administration and the Department.  These are your rights under the contract that you negotiated.  Exercise these rights and protect yourselves and your families.

 

LAPD officers in the Van Nuys Division leave a potential coronavirus call in the Van Nuys Civic Center on Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

This recent article from ABC News vividly depicts the impact the pandemic has had on members of law enforcement throughout the country and describes some of the measures departments have taken in response to its many challenges:

Local law enforcement officials across the country are rapidly making major operational changes in preparation for the continued spread of coronavirus, as they face potential strains in resources and staffing without precedent in modern American history.

While policing is a public service centered around direct interactions with members of the public, several departments have already sought to limit responses to certain incidents and prioritize arrests of serious and violent offenses over some misdemeanor crimes.

Steve Casstevens, the head of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) told ABC News Wednesday that “consistently” across the country, departments are changing the way they respond to calls in cases where an officer is not needed on scene.

“We’re looking at essential calls for service,” Casstevens, who is also the police chief of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, said in an interview. Situations like losing a license, getting into a fender bender “don’t require an emergency response or a sworn officer to respond to.”

In Chicago, the police department has told officers “that certain crimes can be handled via citation and misdemeanor summons as opposed to physical arrest,” spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told ABC News.

The measures, officials explained, are intended to protect not just the police and sheriffs who come into contact with citizens — but limit crowding in jails that could lead to rapid spread of the virus among vulnerable populations.

Sheriffs around the country are also raising alarm about the potential crisis of the virus entering local jails, the majority of which do not have in-house medical care, according to Sheriff David Mahoney, the incoming president of the National Sheriffs Association.

“We’re working with all of our law enforcement partners, local, state and federal, to decrease the number of people who are physically arrested and brought to jail,” Mahoney, the sheriff of Dane County, Wisconsin told ABC News in a phone interview. “In my county what we have asked our chiefs of police in our 10 cities, our village police departments, our state law enforcement and our federal partners is to look for alternatives to incarcerating people in jail, look for opportunities to cite with a ticket or order in and give a court date to appear.”

Additionally, Mahoney said he’s working with probation and parole officials in his own jurisdiction to avoid incarcerating probation violators who don’t pose a public risk, and to release individuals currently in jail for minor probation violations.

The policy shifts echo a series of recommendations made by at least 30 district and county prosecutors in a letter this week that urged officials to “adopt cite and release policies” for offenses that pose no immediate physical threat to the broader public, including simple drug possession.

The prospect of departments announcing that certain crimes will not lead to arrest has caused alarm among some in the law enforcement community, however.

“It sends a message out to criminals that you’ve got a free pass right now while all this is going on, which is the wrong message to send,” said Don Mihalek, a law enforcement expert and ABC News contributor. “Of course all of this concerns over exposure and I think you’re seeing law enforcement agencies trying to address exposure issues, which is tough for them because law enforcement’s job is to interact with people, particularly suspects, and be out on the streets.”

In Philadelphia, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw expressed concern on Wednesday after reports emerged that officers had been instructed to stop making arrests for certain non-violent crimes until next month.

Outlaw said that the department “is not turning a blind eye to crime.”

“Persons who commit certain non-violent offenses will be arrested at the scene,” Outlaw said. “Once their identity has been confirmed, they will be released and processed via arrest warrant.”

Agencies such as the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department and the Rhode Island State Police expressed confidence about their ability to handle the crisis and said they remain fully operational and not paring down operations, department spokespeople told ABC News.

An additional burden facing officers will be enforcing the orders from governors and local officials seeking to limit the amount of people allowed to gather in certain places in order to stop the spread of the virus, with some threatening criminal penalties for those who refuse to comply.

In Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan issued an order banning the gathering of more than 50 people, police told ABC News that if the situation warrants, they will take the “the appropriate action” to control crowds.

“Maryland State Police response to a complaint will be prompt and appropriate,” Col. Woodrow Jones III, the agency’s superintendent, said in a statement. “Depending on the call and location, we will first make contact with the owner or manager of the establishment. If voluntary compliance does not occur, we will take enforcement action, in cooperation with the local state’s attorney. That could result in the issuance of a criminal summons or warrant, or it could result in immediate arrest, depending on the circumstances in the particular situation,.”

Jones said that a violation of the governor’s executive order could be punishable by one year in jail or a $5,000 fine.

As reported by various news outlets to include CNN.com, the first cases of coronavirus in the federal correctional system emerged earlier this week as the number of infected inmates and staff at facilities across the country continued to climb.  This, in turn, has heightened concerns about the spread of the pandemic within the institutions housing the nation’s inmates amongst the inmates and correctional staff.

Certain developments have arisen as many staff at prisons have voiced worries about an unprepared system, with officials citing short staffing and a lack of proper protective equipment. Criminal justice advocates have also called for the release of certain nonviolent offenders, including those who may be at greater risk from the virus.  Certain high-profile inmates have actually asked to be released.

In response, the Federal Bureau of Prisons moved to a defensive posture, temporarily blocking social visitors as well as attorneys in some circumstances from visiting inmates at the system’s 122 facilities across the country.  Local facilities, where most the U.S.’s prison population is housed, have also taken steps to lock down buildings and reduce the possibility of the virus making it inside.  As you can expect, this is extremely challenging given cramped cell blocks and routine gatherings among inmate populations.  As such, measures such as staggering mealtimes and recreation in certain areas has been implemented. Moreover, while new inmates have continued to report to federal prisons throughout the crisis, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has suspended internal inmate transfers between facilities to minimize the spread of possible infections.

The issues encountered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons will surely arise, if they have not already, in New Jersey, both on the State and local level. As such, we want all of our Public Safety Officers to be prepared and take the necessary precautions for not only themselves, but their families and loved ones. As you can expect, all State and local authorities are not entirely prepared to deal with this unprecedented situation. Therefore, we suggest all Officers take note of the precautions and/or actions being utilized by their respective employers to minimize the risk of infection.  Should you believe your respective employers are not engaging the proper mechanisms to do so, it is imperative to contact us so that we may assist in ensuring your safety remains the highest priority.

Please continue to check this blog periodically for updates on this and other important topics.

 

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.