On April 16, NJBIA’s Employment and Labor Law Policy Committee held a virtual meeting to discuss the ongoing workforce challenges within the state. Guest speakers Hugh Bailey, Assistant Commissioner for Workforce Development at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and Senator Fred Madden, Chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, weighed in on the issues which employers and employees are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is underway, with all adults over the age of 16 becoming eligible for vaccination beginning on April 19one of the main workforce challenges is getting people back to work – whether assisting dislocated workers with reentering the workforce or persuading workers to return to working onsite.

Assistant Commissioner Bailey discussed some of the efforts which NJDOL is making to face these challenges, considering the unprecedented circumstances. The barriers created by the pandemic have fundamentally changed to the way in which business is conducted and has led to massive decreases in demand and decimated businesses, especially in the service industry. 

Over two million workers have claimed unemployment benefits. In light of this, the NJDOL is encouraging unemployed and dislocated workers to engage with its initiatives aimed at reskilling and upskilling in order to encourage people to return to the workforce.

As the Assistant Commissioner Bailey noted, utilizing this time as an opportunity to reskill, workers can reenter the workforce either at the same level or higher level of income, which becomes more unlikely as workers are dislocated for longer periods of time.  

Because millions of New Jersey residents have claimed unemployment over the course of the pandemic, the state’s Unemployment Insurance fund has been depleted. Looking ahead, one of the major challenges will be replenishing the fund, as this will burden businesses as they seek to recover from the pandemic.

Sen. Madden discussed recent legislative efforts to help with this, such as his bill S3011, a new law he sponsored to soften the automatic UI payroll tax increase over the next few years due to the pandemic.

NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Christopher Emigholz addressed using federal pandemic recovery funds to replenish the UI fund, as is being planned in other states such as Maryland and Ohio. In addition, NJBIA and Senator Madden expressed support for his S2919 to conduct a study to understand the future of remote work within the state.