The information in this Q&A is based on the information made publicly available by the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at the time of publishing, January 14, 2021. Revised February 17, 2021, March 4, 2021, March 19, 2021, May 6, 2021, and August 23, 2021.
(UPDATED) Are there any governmental mandates requiring people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?
New Jersey does not currently have an absolute statewide COVID vaccination mandate. However, New Jersey does require workers in certain key industries, including healthcare, education and public service, to be vaccinated OR to undergo regular COVID testing if they are not yet vaccinated.
(NEW) When does the vaccine and testing requirements become effective?
The executive order becomes effective October 18, 2021. If an educational worker does not submit proof of vaccination by that date, they will be required to test at least once or twice weekly. Employers can require testing more often than twice weekly if they chose.
(NEW) What forms of proof of vaccination will be accepted?
Proof of vaccination must be submitted in one of the following formats, otherwise the worker will undergo regular testing:
- The CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card issued to the vaccine recipient by the vaccination site, or an electronic or physical copy of the same;
- Official record from the New Jersey Immunization Information System (NJIIS) or other State immunization registry;
- A record from a health care provider’s portal/medical record system on official letterhead signed by a licensed physician, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, registered nurse or pharmacist;
- A military immunization or health record from the United States Armed Forces; or
- Docket mobile phone application record or any state specific application that produces a digital health record.
(NEW) What is the procedure for regular testing for workers who are not yet fully vaccinated?
Those who do not submit proof of vaccination by October 18, 2021 will be required to be tested at least once or twice weekly. Employers can require testing more often than twice weekly if they chose. The test must be either be antigen or molecular; rapid tests will not be accepted. It can be taken on-site by the employer or if not taken on site, proof of the test uploaded by the worker. If the worker is not on-site that week, they do not have to test. Test results must be stored according to the confidentiality provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Education Laws and regulations (Privacy Laws). Employers must have a policy for tracking test results and must report results to local health departments. The NJ Department of Health will be offering a testing program that will be funded by a combination of federal ESSER funds and state funding; details on that program have not yet been released.
(NEW) Who pays for testing?
Governor Murphy announced that the NJ Department of Health will offer a free program for school districts to conduct the required testing, funding by a combination of federal ESSER funds and state GEAR money. More information will be forthcoming once the DOH provides more detail on this program.
(NEW) Can the state mandate workers receive vaccination or undergo weekly testing?
Yes. It is well-settled law that states can mandate immunizations in order to protect the public health, so long as there are medical exceptions for individuals who cannot receive the vaccination due to a risk to their health because of a medical condition they have or sincerely held religious beliefs. The order applying to public education does not mandate vaccination since it provides a testing alternative.
(NEW) Can a member be disciplined for failing to abide by the executive order setting forth vaccination and testing requirements?
Yes. NJEA will defend the legal and due process rights of members who face discipline or other adverse job consequences. However, members should understand that there is no universal right for employees to refuse to abide by mandatory safety measures, and therefore risk disciplinary consequences.
(NEW) Is the state mandate to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing subject to collective bargaining?
The state requirement is not subject to negotiation. Impact issues are. Examples include bargaining time off to receive a vaccination and recover from any side effects, bargaining time off for any other procedural aspects of testing, and negotiating how time off for those who test positive will be handled. Local associations should reach out to their UniServ field representatives for assistance.
(NEW) Does it violate HIPAA for employers to ask for COVID test results?
No, but employers must abide by the applicable confidentiality provisions. HIPAA only applies to health care entities, health plans (this may cover some employers who administer their own group plans), and those doing business on behalf of these entities. For educational entities, confidentiality of medical records is protected by Privacy Laws (the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, and other regulations). Those laws require that test results should not be made public. Close contacts should be made aware of their potential exposure without revealing the identity of the individual who tested positive. Medical records must be kept in confidential files, separate from an individual’s personnel file, and only disclosed on a “need to know” basis.
Can my employer ask me if I received the vaccine and/or ask for a copy of my immunization record?
If the employer is asking all staff for this information, it is likely permitted. Given that school law regulations permit employers to ask for immunization records during medical exams upon initial employment, it is likely legal for an employer to ask for an update of those records for the COVID-19 vaccine, though of course the regulations did not anticipate these particular circumstances. The EEOC advises that employers can request this information, so long as the inquiry is narrowly tailored so as not to be likely to solicit a response that reveals an individual’s diagnosis or disability.
However, if your employer is only asking you because you currently have a medical accommodation due to the pandemic, prior to responding you should seek more information from the district as to the purpose of the inquiry as a part of the good faith interactive process required for medical accommodations. You are not required (but you certainly may) to disclose your diagnosis as a part of that process. You may wish to speak with your health care provider about any vaccine questions you may have and if you are deciding to receive the vaccine, whether your medical care provider needs to update your certification supporting your accommodation.
If a staff member such as a school nurse is collecting this information on behalf of the employer, they should be doing so with the authorization of administration or the Board, and not on their own. Any records or responses collected must be kept confidential and separate from a member’s regular personnel file in compliance with N.J.S.A. 6A:32-6.3.
(NEW) Can an employer reveal an employee’s vaccination status to a parent, guardian or other member of the community? For example, if a parent or guardian requests a student be placed in a classroom(s) with only vaccinated staff.
No. If parents, guardians, or other members of the community ask for the vaccination status of the staff in their child’s classroom, or for a placement based upon vaccination status, a response that reveals staff members’ individual medical information would be inappropriate. Local associations should discuss with the district how these requests are being handled. Employers can reveal general information about their staff’s overall vaccination rates – such as an overall district-wide percentage – that does not reveal an individual’s vaccination status, but cannot reveal an individual’s vaccination status.
(NEW) Can I receive a booster shot?
The United States will be offering booster shots (or third shots) to Americans beginning the week of September 20th. This only affects those individuals who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The CDC and the FDA have not released official recommendations at this time, but are expected to recommend that these shots should be administered 8 months after the date the person received their second shot. Whether a booster shot will be recommended for those that received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still being evaluated.
Currently, the NJDOH is only offering booster shots to certain immunocompromised individuals. They are preparing to offer booster shots to the general public and will release more information as it becomes available. For more information, visit https://covid19.nj.gov/faqs/nj-information/testing-and-treatment/who-should-receive-additional-covid-19-vaccine-doses
(NEW) Will I need to receive a booster shot to submit proof of vaccination under the executive order setting forth vaccine and testing requirements?
Not at this time. At this time, individuals are considered to be “fully vaccinated” two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after the first dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It is likely that the executive order will later be amended to require updated proof that a booster shot was received; if and when this occurs, this guidance will be updated.
(NEW) Can a municipality, local Board of Education, or Board of Trustees opt out of Executive Order 251, the mask mandate, or the executive order requiring vaccine and testing protocols?
No. It is clear that municipalities, local Boards of Education, and Boards of Trustees are not permitted to pass ordinances or policies that would conflict with executive orders or impair or impede their enforcement.
Can an employer mandate its employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine?
This question addresses whether employer can implement a vaccine mandate without a testing requirement. Employers cannot contradict an executive order, but they likely could implement more strict requirements. Employers are likely legally permitted to mandate that employees receive the vaccine. However, employees may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) for those with a qualifying disability, as defined by law, that would prevent them from taking the vaccine, such as an underlying health condition that would make it contraindicated to receive a vaccine or a possible risk of a severe allergic reaction.
A religious accommodation may be required under a federal civil rights law known as Title VII and/or the NJLAD if the employee can demonstrate a sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance that would preclude vaccination.
What happens if my employer mandates the vaccine, but I don’t want to receive it for religious or medical reasons?
If you are not receiving the vaccine for religious or medical reasons, with the support of your local leadership and/or your NJEA UniServ field representative, you should request a reasonable accommodation, such as wearing a mask, regular testing, or remote work, and engage in the interactive process with your employer. An employer can deny a request for an accommodation if the accommodation poses an undue hardship, which in the case of a disability means significant difficulty or expense and in the case of a religious request, only requires some cost or burden to the employer. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation and can exclude an employee from the worksite if it can demonstrate that the unvaccinated employee would pose a direct threat due to a significant risk of substantial harm to the health and safety of that individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. Whether an employer can deny an accommodation request for reasons of “undue hardship” or due to a “direct threat” will be a fact sensitive, individualized inquiry.
What happens if my employer mandates the vaccine, but I refuse the vaccine without having an accommodation?
If an employee refuses the vaccine, and they do not have an accommodation based on religion or disability, the employer and employee can voluntarily agree on an alternative, such as mask wearing, regular testing, or remote work if available and if permitted by law. If the employer’s policy requires a vaccine, and no accommodation is available, an employee can be disciplined for refusal to receive the vaccine. Any adverse action taken against the employee would be subject to any applicable tenure laws, the new just cause arbitration law for non-tenured educational support professionals, and protections contained in collective bargaining agreements.
(UPDATED) Are employer mandates to be vaccinated subject to collective negotiations?
No. Mask and vaccination mandates set by executive order or law are preempted and are not the subject of collective negotiations. Impact issues are negotiable. If an employer announces it will mandate vaccination, local leadership should work with their NJEA UniServ field representative on a demand for impact negotiations.
(UPDATED) Once I am fully vaccinated, am I still required to quarantine due to possible or known exposure to someone with COVID-19, or after travelling?
Not at this time. Quarantine requirements have changed and likely will change going forward. The current federal and state guidance, is that fully vaccinated people with no COVID-like symptoms do not need to quarantine or be tested following an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. They also no longer have to quarantine after travelling (see Legal Services’ Travel FAQ for more information). However, symptoms should be monitored for 14 days after exposure. If symptoms occur, a fully vaccinated person should isolate themselves from others, be clinically evaluated for COVID-19, including testing. Vaccination status should be shared with your healthcare provider at the time of presentation to any necessary care. This could change.
However, this guidance does not apply to healthcare settings or to residents of congregate settings such as correctional and detention facilities and group homes.
When am I considered to be “fully vaccinated”?
A person is considered to be fully vaccinated when two or more weeks have passed since the final dose of any vaccine that is being distributed in New Jersey as of the date of this update.
If I had COVID-19 and recovered, can I to get the vaccine?
We do not offer medical advice; you should speak to your health care provider about any medical concerns you have. Generally speaking, while there is no recommended time frame between infection and vaccination, current evidence suggests that the risk of reinfection is low in the months after initial infection. Therefore, people with recent infection may choose to temporarily delay vaccination. However, anyone currently infected with COVID-19 should speak with their health care provider about waiting to get vaccinated until after their illness has resolved and they have met all criteria to discontinue isolation. You should speak to your health care provider about any vaccination concerns or questions you may have.
(Updated) Will students be able to receive the vaccine?
The Pfizer vaccine is currently approved by the FDA for individuals who are 12 or older, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for those 18 and over. It has been reported that the FDA may approve administration of the Pfizer vaccine for those who are younger than 12 years old this fall.
(Updated) What do I have to do to get the vaccine?
The state’s six mega sites are now accepting walk-ins. Additionally, you can preregister for the vaccine by calling 855-568-0545 or visiting https://covidvaccine.nj.gov/. The call center now also assists in scheduling appointments, but may still be experiencing high call volumes, so preregistering on the website may be preferable. If you are preregistered via email, you will receive an email when appointments are available. You can also find appointments directly through vaccine sites.
(UPDATED) How do I get the vaccine?
You can make an appointment to receive the vaccine by calling 855-568-0545 or by visiting https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/vaccine. You can also find appointments directly through vaccine sites, such as local pharmacies. https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/vaccine also provides information on finding community events offering the vaccine near you, requesting a vaccine appointment for someone who is homebound, and finding transportation to a vaccine site. The state also has a hotline to assist seniors 856-249-7007.
Will vaccinations be available at worksites?
Possibly. Working with local boards of health, some school districts may be used as vaccination sites for staff. If vaccines will be distributed at the worksite, local association leadership, with the support of their NJEA UniServ field representative, should contact their district administration for more information and to demand bargaining of any negotiable impact.
How much does the vaccine cost?
The vaccine is free of cost, although your insurance provider may be billed by the state to offset some of the costs associated with the vaccination roll out.
Where can I find out more information about the safety of the vaccine and the side effects of the vaccine?
For information about safety and side effects, visit the following resources:
(UPDATED) Is there data or guidance about whether the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding?
We do not offer medical advice; you should speak to your health care provider about any medical concerns you have. The CDC recommends the vaccine for all people over 12 , including people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. More information is available here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/pregnancy.html. Again, please consult with your doctor.
(NEW) Are there resources about receiving the vaccine when you are immunocompromised?
We do not offer medical advice; you should speak to your health care provider about any medical concerns you have. The CDC states that immunocompromised individuals may benefit from an additional dose of the vaccine. More information is available here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/immuno.html. Again, please consult with your doctor.
Are school nurses protected from liability if they are administering the vaccine in their role as school nurses?
Yes, they are protected from liability for any claims of injury arising from administering the vaccine, if they administer the vaccine in accordance with the vaccine’s directions and do not provide it to groups not approved to receive the vaccine. They are not protected from liability for willful misconduct.
Do I have any recourse against the school district or college if I am harmed by the vaccine or the vaccination process?
Generally, no. If a school district or college is involved in administering the vaccine, either directly or by way of mandating that its employees receive the vaccine, it is protected from liability from claims of injury, so long as the vaccine is administered according to directions and is not provided to groups not approved to receive it. Employers are not protected from liability for willful misconduct. Workers compensation claims are not included in liability protections and remain a possible avenue for redress of injury.