Can Terminating an Employee for Quarantining Violate New Jersey’s Whistleblower and Anti-Retaliation Laws?

In a case likely to be the first of many, a New Jersey Superior Court has ruled that an employee who takes medical leave due to COVID-19 symptoms and exposure may be protected by New Jersey’s whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws.

In John Hollibaugh v. Jose Tejas, Inc., et al., a restaurant employee was terminated from employment after missing several days of work due to exposure to COVID-19 and subsequently developing COVID-19 symptoms. The employee alleged that his termination from employment violated the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”), and case law prohibiting termination from employment contrary to clear public policy mandates. The Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the Complaint. 

Specifically, the Court ruled that the employee reasonably believed that he was required to quarantine until his symptoms subsided after being advised by his medical provider (pursuant to CDC guidelines) and that his employment was terminated as a result. Thus, according to the Court, the employee reasonably believed that the decision to terminate his employment was in violation of a law, rule and/or regulation as well as public policy. The decision is the first of its kind in New Jersey to give such protections to employees who experience COVID-19 symptoms. 

We will continue to monitor this and other related employment law developments. For questions regarding the intersection of public and private employment policies, please contact Lisa M. Scidurlo, or the Stevens & Lee attorney with whom you regularly work.