Murphy Vetoes Holzapfel Bill to Afford First Responders Job Protection

TOMS RIVER, NJ – A bill sponsored by New Jersey Assemblyman James Holzapfel that would extend job protection for employees who fail to report to work during a state of emergency was vetoed by  Governor Phil Murphy today.

Holzapfel’s bill would prohibit an employer from terminating, dismissing, or suspending an employee who fails to report to work because the employee is serving as an emergency medical responder during a state of emergency.

In order for an employee to obtain the job protections outlined in the bill, the employee would be required to provide their employer with at least an hour’s notice and, upon returning to employment, documentation demonstrating that the employee was engaged in, and necessary for, the rendering of emergency medical services. Although the bill would apply broadly to all employers, it specifically would prohibit law enforcement and fire departments from limiting the ability of first responders to serve as medical responders during an emergency.

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“I commend the bill’s sponsors for their efforts to ensure that our emergency medical responders are not jeopardizing other employment when they are called upon to serve their communities. Our emergency medical responders are on the frontlines of the State’s COVID-19 response,” Murphy said as he vetoed the legislation.  “When they are needed in times of crisis, they should have full confidence that they will not be fired or penalized because of their time away from work.”

Murphy said a current law exists to protect employees and he would prefer to see that law updated instead to include first responders.

“Importantly, current law already provides protections for volunteer emergency responders during states of emergency. P.L.2009, c.202 prohibits an employer from terminating, dismissing or suspending an employee for failing to report to work because the employee is serving as a volunteer emergency responder during 2 a state of emergency declared by the President or the Governor, or because the employee is actively engaged in responding to an emergency alarm,” Murphy said  “The law’s protections extend to active members of a volunteer fire company, volunteers of a first aid, rescue or ambulance squad, and members of any county or municipal volunteer Office of Emergency Management whose duties include responding to a fire or emergency call. The law contains notice and documentation requirements identical to those outlined in Senate Bill No. 2351.”

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Murphy said while this bill would support the staffing levels of emergency medical responders, it would do so at the expense of law enforcement and fire departments. The work ranks of police and corrections have been ravaged by the COVID-19 virus.

“I am particularly concerned about how this bill could exacerbate staffing shortages that may result if New Jersey is hit by a second wave of the virus in the fall or winter,” Murphy said. “Moreover, because the bill is not limited to the COVID-19 emergency, I am concerned about the unintended consequences it could have on the State’s ability to effectively respond to the unique challenges and circumstances presented by future public health emergencies and states of emergency.”

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