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Where can I find guidance on best practices to maintain the health and safety of seasonal farm workers? What rules are in place and what resources are available?
Note: The article below summarizes guidance from the 2020 season. Please watch for updates regarding the 2021 season.
Under Executive Order No. 192, summarized below, all employers must adhere to new health and safety protocols to protect their in-person workforces.
In addition, the Department of Health has created guidelines for seasonal farm labor camps, a "Quick Facts" infographic, and prevention signs on face coverings, hand cleaning, social distancing, and helpful hotlines.
Under Executive Order No. 192, all employees, customers, and visitors must wear a face covering while on the premises (both indoors and outdoors), except when an individual is under two years of age or where it is impractical like when eating, drinking, or receiving a service that cannot be completed while wearing a mask.
Employees, customers, and visitors who refuse to wear a face covering may be declined entry, except when doing so would violate State or federal law and provided the employer complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination where applicable.
Employers may permit employees to remove their face covering when they are at their workstation at least six feet from others or alone in a walled space such as an office. Employers must provide face coverings to their employees.
For more details and exemptions, refer to page 4 of Executive Order No. 192.
Mandatory Health and Safety Requirements
Under Executive Order No. 192, all employers that require or permit their workforce to be physically present at a worksite must abide by the following requirements, at a minimum, to protect employees, customers, and others who come into contact with its operations:
- Require workers and customers to maintain at least six feet of distance from one another, to the maximum extent possible;
- Provide approved sanitization materials for employees and visitors at no cost to those individuals;
- Ensure that employees practice hand hygiene and provide employees with sufficient break time for that purpose;
- Routinely clean and disinfect all high-touch areas in accordance with DOH and CDC guidelines;
- Prior to each shift, conduct daily health checks, such as temperature screenings, visual symptom checking, self-assessment checklists, and/or health questionnaires, consistent with CDC guidance;
- Do not allow sick employees to enter workplace and follow requirements of applicable leave laws;
- Promptly notify employees of any known exposure to COVID-19 at the worksite; and
- Clean and disinfect the worksite in accordance with CDC guidelines when an employee at the site has been diagnosed with COVID-19 illness.
Detailed requirements and exemptions for certain employers can be found in the full text of Executive Order No. 192.
DOH Guidelines For Seasonal Farm Workers
The Department of Health's guidance for employers, owners, and operators includes:
- Promoting social distancing by requiring workers to remain at least six feet away from one another while working in the fields or any food farming production, processing, and cultivation;
- Staggering shifts including staggering start times, to minimize the density of the workers in the fields and other work locations at the same time;
- Using partition between work spaces (cloth, plastic, etc.) if safe social distancing is not possible;
- Protecting workers by following CDC recommendations for congregate living if workers are provided housing by employer;
- Regularly and thoroughly disinfecting housing;
- Encouraging social distancing in housing;
- Disinfecting high-touch areas;
- Providing face coverings or masks for employees and requiring workers to wear them at all times, with exceptions for eating, drinking, or health reasons;
- Providing clean, private toilet facilities and hand-washing stations with soap and disposable drying materials near working areas;
- Scheduling handwashing breaks every hour;
- Educate workers on hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and emergency response;
- Screening workers for symptoms, including temperature and symptom checks prior to work shifts;
- Connecting workers showing any COVID-19 symptoms to a physician who will determine if a test is needed;
- Pending medical attention and testing, confining workers with COVID-19 symptoms to individual rooms and having them avoid common areas;
- Contacting Federally Qualified Health Center directly to inquire about COVID-19 testing (including mobile testing) and primary care services, including telehealth;
- Ensuring that workers who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms are transported separately from other workers;
- Contacting the local public health department with any suspected case;
- Providing a separate living space or alternate housing, accessible kitchen, and bathroom for worker with suspected or confirmed COVID-19;
- Cohorting or grouping workers by their health status to reduce spread of COVID-19 to healthy workers;
- Allowing frequent communication between healthcare provider and a confirmed patient until individual fully recovers or has a negative COVID-19 test;
- Releasing a worker who had COVID-19 symptoms in isolation from isolation and return to work only under circumstances detailed on page 10 of the guidance; and
- Placing guidance in a visible place on a farm operation and in employer-provided housing.
Costs related to testing or treatment for COVID-19 will not be charged to employer or worker.
Any hospitalization or isolation provided by the State of New Jersey will not be charged to employers or workers.
Temporary isolation housing for workers who test positive is available at the Field Medical Station located at Atlantic City Convention Center, 1 Convention Blvd, Atlantic City, NJ 08401. Referral from a healthcare provider is required.
The full set of guidelines includes additional information and additional steps that employers must take to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during harvesting, picking, packing, and distribution of agricultural products as well as to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in shared housing and transportation.
Employment-Based Protections for Workers
Once a worker is hired and put on payroll, that worker is considered to be an employee. Workers arriving to a farm are considered hired and reporting to work. This applies to all employees regardless of immigration/documentation status. I.e., H-2A employees and undocumented employees are equally covered.
All workers in New Jersey are protected against COVID-19 Employment-Related Retaliation.
Most workers will be eligible for Paid Sick Time if they contract COVID-19. Employer is encouraged to give full 40 hours of paid sick leave upfront and ensure that workers have access to the paid sick time if they contract COVID-19.
Workers may be eligible for Workers Compensation if they get COVID-19 while working.
Page 11 of the Department of Health's guidance document has additional details on employment-based protections for workers.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org your questions about the Employment-Related Retaliation law or if you think you have been retaliated against.