While the COVID-19  pandemic has changed the way we transact our day to day business, live our daily lives and make us more cognizant of our surroundings, the one thing that has not changed is Capehart Scatchard’s dedication to both our current and prospective clients.

Below is a listing, by practice group, that you might find helpful during these unsettled times.

Our Firm is open and our attorneys are available to assist you with your business and personal legal needs.

Labor & Employment

Thanks to COVID-19, this Thanksgiving holiday is likely to be one of the most unique that any of us have experienced in our lifetimes. The CDC has already issued directives that persons should not travel during the upcoming holiday season, and that they should keep their gatherings small (ideally limited to their own households), and where possible, keep them outside to maintain good social distancing. In light of the CDC’s directive, we have gotten several questions from clients about what employers can do to ensure that their employees follow such directives and engage in safe behavior during the upcoming holidays. Read on to get the answers to these questions.  The answer might surprise you!

On October 28, 2020, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 192, requiring employers to take certain precautions and measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and safeguard employees in the workplace. This article discusses the requirements employers must follow to protect their employees.

In this space, this author has written articles on the need for employers to be aware of accommodation obligations under federal and state disability laws for those employees who are high risk for either COVID-19 exposure or more serious health problems from COVID-19.  This article focuses on a different aspect of the accommodation duty — the need to accommodate the possible long term health problems flowing from recovery from COVID-19 themselves.

In this current age of COVID-19, employers are seeing more and more requests from employees seeking a workplace reasonable accommodation. Some of these requests emanate from the employee’s own health condition that increases risks for COVID-19 complications. On the other hand, some employees are seeking to avoid coming into work because close family members have health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19. So, how should employers respond to such requests?

As most of us know, the Governors of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut have issued a “travel advisory” indicating that those who travel from certain states must quarantine for a period of 14-days after the last contact with those states. Is this “advisory” an enforceable order? Well, this topic is becoming one of the most complex of issues facing employers today during this pandemic.

Anyone watching the news today has seen report after report about a possible vaccine for the coronavirus and the speedy progress being made towards its development.  This vaccine is hoped by many to be the cure all to allow the world to go back to some semblance of the normalcy that existed before the commencement of the current pandemic. While all would seemingly acknowledge that an effective and reliable vaccine for COVID-19 would be wonderful news, the success of the vaccine in bringing back normalcy will largely depend upon how willing the general public will be in taking the vaccine. Which leads me to the question that I have already been asked by several of my clients: in an age of a pandemic, can employers force their employees to undergo a vaccine treatment as a condition of employment?

Over the last several months, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has continued to refine its past issued Guidances on what employers can do to safeguard employees from COVID-19 workplace exposure. One such measure that employers can utilize is mandating that all employees be tested for COVID-19. But previously the EEOC never said what type of testing can be done. The EEOC has recently clarified precisely what kind of testing employers can now require of its employees.

With businesses reopening thanks to modifications of state stay at home orders, employers are beginning to contemplate what their new work environments will look like when employees return. Over the past several months, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (‘EEOC”) has provided guidance to employers regarding the ways that a company can safeguard its workplace in this new era of COVID-19. One hot question is whether employers, out of fear of legal liability from possible COVID-19 workplace exposure, can prevent high risk employees who suffer the greatest possible complications from COVID-19 from returning to work merely because of that possibility of greater harm. The EEOC says no, at least not automatically, just because of that high risk of possible complications. 

You have been watching the news, waiting, or in some cases desperately waiting for the government to “re-open the economy.”  This article outlines the steps you can and should take to prepare your company to open safe legally. 

In our COVID-19: What Can An Employer Do? article, we outlined the steps that employers may take to guard against coronavirus in their workplace. Thanks to a recent guidance issued by the EEOC, employers were able to implement several steps, such as taking employee temperatures and insisting that employees stay home if sick, to prevent COVID-19 spread in the workplace. Recently, the EEOC has expanded on this Guidance, and has added another tool for employers to use in their fight to prevent contagion of their workplace. Now, not only can employers require that previously positive COVID-19 employees provide medical documentation that they are fit to return to work, but employers can now also actually choose to administer COVID-19 testing themselves to all employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus. The one important question that the Guidance does not answer, however, is where employers will actually get those tests to administer given the well-publicized testing shortages that currently exist in fighting the on-going pandemic. 

As of April 1, 2020, employers must now comply with the two new federal leave laws recently passed to deal with employee work absences resulting from the COVID 19 crisis:  The Paid Emergency Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act.  A summary of each of these provisions is explained in this article. 

If your business is considered essential and you are open during this COVID-19 pandemic, this article gives some insight as to what you should doing to safeguard against a workplace infestation.

Litigation

Beginning in mid-September, New Jersey will resume jury trials on a limited basis. Three counties have been chosen to start the resumption of trials – Atlantic/Cape May, Bergen, and Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem vicinages. The plan is to start with criminal trials and then expand to other counties and both criminal and civil trials.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has approved the first part of the New Jersey Courts Post Pandemic Plan for transitioning from fully remote court operations
(Phase 1) to the gradual return to courthouse and court facilities (Phase 2). The courts will begin the implementation of Phase 2 starting on June 22, 2020.

With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Friday, March 27, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the suspension of court proceedings, extension of deadlines and tolling time periods (including the time to file Notices of Tort Claims). This article explains what the Court placed into effect and renewed provisions.

Notice was received from the New Jersey state court on March 20, 2020 that all arbitrations are cancelled until April 10, 2020. They will be rescheduled. However, civil arbitrations will resume as of April 13, 2020 with participation to be either via video and/or telephone conference and initiated by an arbitrator.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all New Jersey State courts. This article provides information on how the court is handling proceedings, discovery deadlines, depositions, arbitrations and mediations.

As of March 12, 2020, the New Jersey state courts have suspended all new jury trials until further notice to help minimize community exposure to the coronavirus. Jury trials already in progress will continue. This article goes on to explain how the court plans to handle non-jury trials and other court matters.

School Law

On September 24, 2020, the Department of Community Affairs, Division of Local Government Services (“DLGS”) issued Local Finance Notice 2020-21 to further explain the new emergency regulations for remote public meetings held during a declared emergency.  The emergency regulations were promulgated by the Director of DLGS in accordance with Section 8 of newly enacted L. 2020, c. 34, and are codified as N.J.A.C. 5:39-1.1. through 1.7.  The emergency regulations aim to ensure continuity of government operations and transparency in conducting public business when an emergency requires a governing body, subject to the Open Public Meetings Act, to hold meetings remotely.  Boards of education are included in these emergency regulations and are subject to their requirements.

On June 12, 2020, the NJDOE provided guidance to school districts on the delivery of extended school year (“ESY”) services to eligible students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NJDOE’s guidance was in response to the Governor’s recent Executive Order 149 allowing for in-person ESY programming beginning on or after July 6, 2020. Pursuant to the IDEA and corresponding New Jersey regulations, once a school district determines that a student with disability requires additional educational services during the summer, the school district is required to include an ESY program as part of that student’s IEP. ESY programs usually operate in July and August.

Lauren E. Tedesco, Esq., a shareholder in the firm’s School Law Group, was recently interviewed by Special Ed Connection on the topic of accommodations for students who are unable to wear face coverings.

The week of May 18, 2020 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released guidance for K-12 school administrators on the reopening of schools.  The guidance is titled “Interim Guidance for Resuming Schools and Day Camps.”

Follow up to our article “OPRA Deadlines Relaxed Amid Declared Emergencies,” which dealt with the bill Governor Murhy signed into law on March 20, 2020, this article outlines the March 26, 2020 special statement issued by the Government Records Council (“GRC”) regarding the modification. 

The NJ Department of Education has finally released a notice stating permissibly of delivering related services to special education students through remote technology.

The Division of Local Government Services (“DLGS”) recently provided additional guidance to school districts on how they can conduct board meetings electronically and still comply with OPRA.

To help local communities work through the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Murphy recently signed into law a bill which will provide meals to New Jersey’s most at-risk students. 

As a result of the public health crisis of COVID-19, on March 20, 2020, Governor Murphy signed Assembly Bill No. 3849 into law which modifies the deadline by which public agencies are required to respond to requests for government records during the period of a declared emergency. In this article, Sanu Dev, Esq. explains what this new law states.

School boards throughout New Jersey must continue to meet during the coronavirus pandemic to address critical business. Here are the safety precautions they’re implementing

This article covers what school districts can do to tackle situations involving health epidemics, like the current problem they’re facing now.

Wills, Trusts & Estates

  • COVID-Related Tax Scam

    Taxpayers are reminded that neither the IRS nor state agencies will ever text taxpayers asking for bank account information so that an EIP deposit or any deposit may be made.  This article brings attention to a new text scam created by thieves that trick people into disclosing bank account information under the guise of receiving the $1,200 Economic Impact Payment.

  • Challenges for Taxpayers Due to COVID Pandemic

    Mid-March, the height of income tax season.  Add to that the COVID Pandemic and where does that leave taxpayers?  Well, first of all, tax season was extended to July 15 to provide additional time for taxpayers to file their taxes.  But, what about the people who filed their taxes before the pandemic was in full force or during our country’s shut-down?  What situations could be encountered.

  • Updating Your Estate Planning

    This pandemic has forced us to think about things we probably would not be thinking about otherwise.  If you have been wanting to make changes to your estate planning but have felt that now is not the time, NOW really is the time to give your attorney a call to make those changes.  Putting off the changes only adds to the burdens of we are facing daily.  Lift those burdens by taking the steps to make changes to your estate plan and put your mind at ease. It can be done and is much simpler than you might think.

We learned on Monday, April 13, 2020 that the only services available with the IRS are electronic services.  The processing of paper income tax returns and telephone assistance have been suspended due to COVID-19. 

The “CARES” Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) was signed into law on March 27, 2020.  While the 880-page law covers many different areas, this article looks at only the section dealing with retirement plan required minimum distributions.

This recently found “free time” has prompted many of us to do some deep spring cleaning. If while purging closets and cabinets you come across financial records you forgot you had, Kay Sowa of our firm’s Wills, Trusts & Estates and Business & Tax Groups offers advice on what you should still keep in that box/envelope and what you can possibly shred. 

This article is written by Jennifer Leach, Associate Director, Division of Consumer and Business Education, FTC, on various scams to be on alert for regarding Coronavirus stimulus checks.

The Treasury Department and IRS announced that the federal income tax filing due date is automatically extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. Here is what you need to know.

Are electronic wills the wave of the future? Here is what we have learned about them.

The stock market has been a big focus in recent weeks and people are afraid when seeing their portfolios lose value. Kay Sowa offers some tips on trying to ride out the tide in this tumultuous time.

Workers’ Compensation

On Monday, September 14, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed S2380 dealing with COVID-19 and essential workers in respect to workers’ compensation benefits.  The bill was signed on the very last day before the bill would have automatically become law.

A3945 was signed into law on July 1, 2020 by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.  The law provides for both an accidental disability pension for an eligible member who becomes totally disabled from COVID-19 as well as a death benefit for eligible beneficiaries if the covered member should die from COVID-19.  

Employers, third party administrators and insurance carriers have for months been expending a great deal of time collecting information needed to make compensability decisions in respect to COVID-19 claims. There are many important questions to be asked in making such decisions. This article focuses not so much on specific questions but on areas of inquiry.

A recent workers’ compensation court discussion raised an important question about what employers can do when employees ignore safety rules concerning COVID-19 in respect to both workers’ compensation and employment law.

Proposed Senate Bill 2380 sponsored by New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney seeks to create a new legal presumption of compensability for “essential employees,” including public safety workers and virtually all health care workers who file COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims.  This proposed presumption would require the Judge of Compensation to presume that any COVID-19 claim for public safety and health care workers must be found to be work related unless the employer could rebut the claim by “clear and convincing evidence.” There exists no presumption in the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act that requires an employer in any circumstance to rebut a claim by clear and convincing evidence.  There is a very good reason for that: the standard would be impossible to meet for employers, and it would in effect make employers strictly liable for all COVID-19 cases, whether the claims are causally related or not.

A3945 was signed into law on July 1, 2020 by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. The law provides for both an accidental disability pension for an eligible member who becomes totally disabled from COVID-19 as well as a death benefit for eligible beneficiaries if the covered member should die from COVID-19.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Paid Emergency Sick Leave Act became effective on April 1, 2020. Read how this new law impacts employers with less than 500 employees.

Learn under what circumstances employees working remotely are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits?.

Per the Director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation, a limited reopening of the New Jersey WC Courts will occur on Monday, April 6, 2020 to permit telephonic case conferences and settlements.

Could the coronavirus pose compensability issues in New Jersey? Are these claims compensable?