Today, a new employment law, the New Jersey “Emergency Responders Employment Protection Act,” goes into effect. The new law makes it illegal for employers to fire or suspend an employee who fails to report for work because (1) the employee is actively engaged in responding to an emergency alarm, or (2) the employee is serving as a volunteer emergency responder during a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States or the Governor of New Jersey. The law defines volunteer emergency responder as members of volunteer fire companies, first aid squads, rescue squads, ambulance squads, and county or municipal Office of Emergency Management, whose official duties include responding to fires or other emergency calls.
A volunteer emergency responder must meet two additional requirements to be protected by this law:
(1) at least one hour before they are scheduled for work, they must provide notice to their employers that they are providing emergency services in response to an emergency alarm or a state of emergency; and
(2) when they return to work, they must provide their employers a copy of the incident report and a certification from the incident commander or official in charge. The certification must confirm that the volunteer emergency responder was actively engaged in, and necessary for, providing emergency services. The certification also must indicate the date and time at which the volunteer emergency responder was relieved from emergency duty.
The new law allows volunteer emergency responders to use any available vacation or sick days to get paid for any time they miss from work while they are serving as volunteer emergency responders. Otherwise, it does not require employers to pay emergency responders for any time they miss from work.
The law does not apply to any employee who is deemed an essential employee under a contract or another law.
These new employment rights are in additional to numerous other protections that firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency service employees working in New Jersey already have. For example, they are protected from retaliation by the First Amendment, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act. They are also protected from discrimination and harassment because of age, gender, disability, race, national origin, veteran status, religion, pregnancy and sexual orientation<, among other legally protected categories, under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.