Return to Work and School Reopening Pose Complex Challenges Ahead

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After months of arduous effort, exemplary leadership and the heroic work of health care workers and others, an estimated 1.8 million tests for active COVID-19 infections have been conducted in the state, including negatives. And thanks to the discipline and creativity of many employers, we are now holding steady on virtually all major COVID-19 measures, including the number of new cases and overall hospitalizations.  
The Employers Association of New Jersey (EANJ) has tracked the trajectory of the pandemic since the beginning, surveying, interviewing and speaking to employer-members on a daily basis.  
Assuming that the virus does not spread, most EANJ members say that they are ready for a phased integration of employees who have been working remotely or who have been furloughed. Using this as a sample, we are talking about over one million workers who need to be integrated back into the workplace.  Every EANJ member reports that they will be continuing safety protocols for the foreseeable future, including face masks, social distancing, flexible scheduling, personal protective equipment and on-site COVID-19 screenings and assessments. Even so, return to work decisions are difficult, as individuals in certain categories, older or with medical conditions, may be advised to stay out of work for longer periods. Indeed, pre-pandemic, the percentage of people ages 55 and over in the workforce was at an all-time high.
Schools Critical to Economic Recovery
“A successful transition to public school attendance will, however, be the next critical step in the state’s economic recovery” says John Sarno, president of EANJ.

There are nearly one million households in the state with children and about eight in ten of them have school age children, according to the N.J. Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development.
Come September, all students are eligible for fulltime remote learning. For those children who may go back, they will be attending blended classes, partially in-person and partially online.

According to a recent poll by Fairleigh Dickenson University, New Jerseyans are nearly evenly split over the prospect of schools reopening in the fall, as planned. Overall, 46% approve a return to in-person instruction with appropriate social safety measures in place, while 42% believe education should continue on a remote basis until a vaccine or effective treatment is found for the disease.
About half of EANJ members say that they are prepared to continue to allow some employees to work from home until the virus subsides.
Emergency Family Leave Set to Expire

Of immediate concern is the expiration of the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act at the end of this year.  The federal law allowed tens of thousands of working parents to take paid time off due to school and day care closures, or when classes were attended online from home.  New Jersey’s family leave law also provides for job protection for school closures, but with a threshold trigger of 30 employees, the law excludes nine out of ten employers that employ half the workforce.  New Jersey workers can use limited earned sick leave, if they have it available, but NJ Family Leave Insurance wouldn’t apply when a parent needs to be home when a minor is home attending online classes  
Remaining Flexible
“Employers will need to continue to be creative if they want to retain valued employees during the challenging months ahead” says Sarno.
"The fall and winter flu season looms. Other states are a drag on our economy. Half of EANJ members report that they expect full staffing within three months but one in four say they are well-equipped to continue remote work and are comfortable doing so for the foreseeable future. There is no question that remaining flexible is the best strategy" he says.  
Join us for a one hour webinar on Thursday August 13, 2020: Employer Considerations for the Upcoming School Year