Murphy lifting mandate on remote work, masks in offices

Daniel J. Munoz//May 26, 2021

Murphy lifting mandate on remote work, masks in offices

Daniel J. Munoz//May 26, 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, business owners will no longer be required to enforce face coverings and social distancing among their fully vaccinated workers, under an order announced by Gov. Phil Murphy on May 26 that he plans to sign.

The order goes into effect June 4, and also means that employers will no longer be required to keep as much of their workforce as possible working remotely. Staff will have to verify that they’ve been vaccinated, the governor announced.

Gov. Phil Murphy signs Assembly Bill 5446 into law at Jammin’ Crepes in Princeton, on April 12, 2021. (Josue Lora/ NJ Governor's Office).
Gov. Phil Murphy signs Assembly Bill 5446 into law at Jammin’ Crepes in Princeton on April 12, 2021. – JOSUE LORA/ OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR

“We encourage all employers to do the right things for their specific workplaces,” Murphy said at his daily COVID-19 press briefing on May 26.

“While we are rescinding some requirements, that doesn’t mean we don’t expect you to be flexible and to work with employees — particularly those who are juggling family obligations such as child care,” he said.

State employees are still required to wear face coverings while in the office, under the order, even if they’ve been vaccinated.

“We’re doing this to allow employers greater flexibility to bring employees back into in-person working environments,” the governor added.

It was not initially clear in the order lifting the mandate on masks if the requirement still stood for private indoor workplaces, hence the clarification.

Until now, the language of this week’s executive order held that “all individuals shall continue to wear face coverings in indoor workplaces that are not ‘indoor public spaces,’ subject only to exceptions that have previously existed, such as when employees are at distanced workstations or in their own offices and shall continue to maintain 6 feet of distance from others to the maximum extent possible.”

“Where’s the science that says it’s safe for a vaccinated person to work unmasked in a supermarket where they might interact with hundreds of people, but it’s unsafe for them to work without a mask around a handful of people in a private office?” reads a May 25 statement from Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District.

A poll released Wednesday found that at least two-thirds of businesses plan to have some form of remote work in place after the COVID-19 pandemic. And many employers plan to spend thousands of dollars on new technology that would allow for that kind of telecommuting arrangement.

“Businesses are realizing they must embrace tools needed to enhance collaboration, and subsequently, productivity, amid the so-called ‘hybrid workforce,’ with some employees working remotely, and some returning to the office,” reads a statement from Dan Waldinger, head of B2B marketing at Brother International, which was involved in the report.

As part of the state’s latest reopenings, the indoor mask mandate and 6-foot social distancing rule will be lifted this Friday with exceptions for child care centers, hospitals and public transit. Dance floors at bars and restaurants will also be allowed to reopen this Friday, and patrons will not have to stay at their seats while ordering or having their food or beverages.

Also on June 4, the indoor gathering limit will be lifted. The 250-person indoor gathering limit for political events, weddings, funerals, memorial services, performances, and catered and commercial events will be lifted. And the 30% capacity for large indoor venues will be scrapped.

Unvaccinated patrons will be required to wear face coverings, but short of customers showing their vaccination records, businesses will instead need to rely on their good word.

“If you’re not vaccinated, we expect you to have a higher standard of care … We’re not going to put the workers in harm’s way … What we’re very clearly asking folks is for personal responsibility, if you’re not vaccinated, we ask you to do the right thing,” the governor said on May 24.

But without a vaccine requirement – a passport or some means to verify someone’s vaccination status – public health experts and labor rights groups said that many patrons will not wear the mask and simply lie when asked if they’ve gotten the vaccine.

“Sadly, I suspect there’ll be a minority of people who will do that,” the governor said.