Still Required in NJ: Work from Home, If You Can
As the New Jersey restart continues, most retail stores are open with 50% capacity and social distancing requirements. Beauty salons, barber shops massage and tattoo parlors get the green light to reopen on Monday.
And next week, indoor shopping malls will also be opening their doors. Summer camps will begin operations in July in the Garden State.
Those are all major shifts from March, when Gov. Phil Murphy ordered most public-facing businesses closed entirely to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But Murphy continues to insist businesses that can should have their employees work from home — a population he estimates accounts for 25% of the workforce. It's more than a request — it's required under the governor's executive orders, which have the force of law.
Michele Siekerka, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said she doesn't believe the directive is fair.
“As soon as you can check the boxes for a safe work environment, you should be able to open," she said. "There’s no need to wait until some date in the future, especially when others who are similarly situated are able to be open.”
She wondered out loud: “Why should an office building be treated any differently?”
When the governor has been asked about loosening restrictions more than he has so far — for instance, to allow gyms to open, or to allow for more indoor gatherings — his go-to answer has been “we’re not there yet.”
Siekerka argued businesses are.
"Businesses put the health, safety and welfare of their workforce and their clients and their vendors first and foremost. They are not going to take a risk of bringing people back if they can’t do so in a safe and responsible manner," she said.
She said businesses will be extremely strict about this because “it’s their reputation, it’s liability. Who would go there if it’s not safe? So these businesses know what’s best and know how best how to make their environment comfortable and safe for their workforce.”
She said many different types of businesses are being permitted to begin operations with certain COVID-19 restrictions in place, and “if an office setting or any indoor activity for that matter can meet those requirements with social distancing ... they should be permitted to go there and open.”
But Siekerka said as long as the policy remains in effect, those who can work remotely should follow the governor's directive and do so.
“That is a mandate from the governor under an EO (executive order), and businesses have to be guided accordingly with their interpretation of that,” she said.