NJBIA's Public Policy Forum: The Road to Recovery REGISTER

NJBIA’s 62nd annual Business Outlook Survey results revealed the great challenges brought on by COVID-19 for the year. But some of the concerns of the more than 1,000 respondents are critical to other discussions right now. 

Front and center is legislation to legalize recreational cannabis, which has been amended to weaken an employer’s ability to have a drug-free workplace, even in safety-sensitive industries. 

In the Business Outlook Survey, which was fielded in mid-September and released Monday, 44% said they were substantially concerned about workplace safety if recreational marijuana became law, while 33% said they were moderately concerned. 

Respondents were also asked for the first time if they felt that any employee using medical marijuana should only serve in non-safety sensitive positions. Sixty-two percent said yes, 14% said no, while 24% said they were not sure. 

These kinds of responses show that the workplace safety concerns of New Jersey businesses are extremely valid,” said NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Ray Cantor. “It’s critical that as New Jersey legalizes recreational marijuana, it proceeds cautiously and errs on the side of workplace safety.” 

Those safety concerns were also echoed by the New Jersey Business Coalition in a letter sent to the New Jersey Legislature this week. On Friday evening, Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate Democrats announced they had reached an agreement in principle on adult-use cannabis legislation. However, the final language of the bill had not yet been released.

Liability protections for small business during the pandemic, which NJBIA continues to lobby hard for, is also a growing topic. 

In the Business Outlook Survey, 66% of business owners said they were concerned about being sued by patrons claiming they contracted COVID-19 at their workplace. 

Relatedly, 45% of respondents said they would not be able to afford litigation costs. 

“This is a growing concern for small businesses as we endure a second wave of coronavirus,” said NJBIA Chief of Government Affairs Chrissy Buteas. “So far, there have been actions to protect workers. But there has been no balance in terms of protecting employers, most of whom are checking the boxes and beyond for safety protocols, from a meritless lawsuit.” 

As many employers are currently going through their annual healthcare enrollment period, another offshoot statistic in the survey finds that out of the 72% of respondents who offered health insurance in 2020, 28% said they’ll discontinue that coverage in 2021. 

“This is one of the indirect impacts that probably hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should,” Buteas added.  

“When you have months and months of reduced revenue, which was verified by so many of the respondents, small businesses will need to reduce their expenditures. Unfortunately, with the high cost of health insurance, more business owners find they’ll need to reduce or discontinue coverage for their employees.” 

To see the full results of NJBIA’s 62nd annual Business Outlook Survey click here.