On January 19, 2022, Governor Philip D. Murphy signed Executive Order (EO) 283, which requires that healthcare workers and those at high-risk congregate settings be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including receipt of a booster shot, or have their employment terminated. Currently, New Jersey allows unvaccinated healthcare workers to bypass receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and, instead, undergo weekly testing. With this new EO, the state is tightening its position and dropping the weekly testing option for unvaccinated healthcare workers.
By way of background, on August 6, 2021, Governor Murphy signed EO 252, which required “all workers in certain state and private healthcare facilities and high-risk congregate settings be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 7, 2021 or be subject to COVID-19 testing at minimum one to two times per week.”
The reasoning for the governor’s announcement, which will surely place more pressure on employees to receive the vaccine, is directly related to the omicron variant. “The omicron tsunami has washed across our state,” said Governor Murphy in a public address on January 19.
Per Governor Murphy’s announcement, unvaccinated healthcare facilities’ covered workers subject to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare settings, have until January 27—less than one week—to receive their first dose of the primary series of a vaccine, and until February 28 to submit proof that they are up-to-date with their vaccination, which, according to the state, includes “having completed their primary series and any booster shots for which they are eligible.” Similarly, workers not subject to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for healthcare and high-risk congregate settings have until February 16 to receive the first dose of the primary series of a vaccine and submit proof of vaccination completion by March 30.
Importantly, EO 283 provides that accommodations must be provided to employees who request and receive an exemption because of a disability, medical condition, or sincerely held religious belief. If an employee does receive such exemption, they must submit to weekly or twice weekly testing in accordance with EO 252, which was signed by Governor Murphy last year.
For purposes of this EO, healthcare and high-risk congregate settings include:
- Acute, pediatric, inpatient rehabilitation, and psychiatric hospitals, including specialty hospitals, and ambulatory surgical centers;
- Long-term care facilities, including the state veterans homes;
- Intermediate care facilities, including the state developmental centers;
- Residential detox, short-term and long-term residential substance abuse disorder treatment facilities;
- Clinic-based settings like ambulatory care, urgent care clinics, dialysis centers, Federally Qualified Health Centers, family planning sites, and opioid treatment programs;
- Community-based healthcare settings including Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, and pediatric and adult medical day care programs;
- Licensed home health agencies and registered healthcare service firms operating within the state;
- State and county correctional facilities;
- Secure care facilities and residential community homes operated by the Juvenile Justice Commission;
- Licensed community residences for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI);
- Licensed community residences for adults with mental illness;
- Certified day programs for individuals with IDD and TBI; and
- Group homes and psychiatric community homes licensed by DCF.
Additionally, workers under the EO are defined as:
- Full- and part-time employees;
- Contractors; and
- Other individuals working in the covered setting, including individuals providing operational, custodial, or administrative support.
These issues are complicated and require a fact-specific analysis. Employers are strongly encouraged to consult with counsel regarding their policies and procedures and regarding all questions to ensure compliance with New Jersey COVID-19 regulations.