TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney and Senate Labor Committee Chairman, Senator Fred H. Madden which would create job protections for volunteer emergency responders was approved by the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee by a vote of 4-0, with one abstention.
“Our brave first responders deserve a little consideration from their employers when they’re active in responding to the call of duty,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “This bill makes sure that when emergency responders are risking their lives to protect us, that they’re not inadvertently risking their job security as well. We owe so much to the men and women who put it all on the line to keep our State safe, and affording them a little fairness and consideration in times of emergency is really the least we can do.”
“At a time when the job market is struggling, many first responders might be leery of volunteering their services for fear of losing their jobs,” said Senator Madden, D-Gloucester and Camden. “New Jersey depends greatly on a committed, volunteer emergency response corps to keep our communities safe and secure. We need to do whatever we can to encourage more New Jerseyans to contribute their talents to emergency response, and must protect the jobs of responders when they’re giving up so much to protect us.”
The bill, S-3008, would provide certain employment protections for a volunteer emergency responder who fails to report to work while responding to a state of emergency or an emergency alarm. Under the bill, an employer would be prohibited from terminating, dismissing or suspending an employee who fails to report to work because they were actively engaged in providing voluntary emergency services in response to a declared state of emergency. The protection would only be available if the employee provided their employer with notice, at least an hour prior to the time he or she is scheduled to report to work, that he or she is engaged in rendering emergency services. The employee would also be responsible for providing their employer with a copy of the official incident report upon returning to work, as well as a certification from the incident commander or other official or officer in charge, that the employee was actively providing emergency services.
“This bill is a common sense approach to protecting volunteer responders from being penalized by their employers,” said Senator Madden. “It strikes a proper balance between consideration for emergency responders and the need to verify that the employee was actively responding to an emergency call. Hopefully, this bill will encourage more New Jerseyans to volunteer their services without having to worry about whether or not they’ll have a job to return to.”
The lawmakers both noted that the bill would not require employers to pay employees for missed days of work. The bill would, however, allow an employee to charge the absence as a vacation or sick day in order to avoid a lapse in pay for the time they were responding to the emergency.
“Emergency responders have to be on call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Senator Sweeney. “Unfortunately, they sometimes cannot give their employers appropriate notice when they’re called on to serve their communities. Rather than penalize their commitment to public safety, we ought to be encouraging more New Jersey residents to get involved and help make their neighborhoods a better, safer place.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.