Township worker says he was denied federal sick pay after being exposed to coronavirus on the job

Posted Jun 26, 2020

An Irvington tax department employee claims the township denied him federal money reserved for those sickened by the coronavirus and had his paycheck reduced after he spoke up about it, according to a lawsuit.

In a complaint filed in federal court June 19, Anthony Brown, of West Orange, alleges he was exposed to the virus while working in the municipal office, after being deemed an “essential employee.” He claims Irvington did not allow him to collect money provided to those who leave work to recover from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and had multiple requests denied by the city. When Brown continued to ask for the federal aid, he began to see deductions from his paychecks, according to the lawsuit.

“Following Brown’s complaints regarding Irvington’s failure to provide him paid Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) leave, the township began making improper deductions from Brown’s pay,” the lawsuit reads. “Brown requested explanations for the deductions from his pay and demanded that the deductions stop. Irvington did not respond to Brown.”

Calls to Musa Malik, the township business administrator, were not immediately returned. Township attorney Ramon Rivera responded to inquiries, denying allegations in the complaint but declining to offer more details.

”The township denies the allegations made in the complaint,” Rivera wrote in an email. “Nonetheless, I cannot comment further as this matter involves personnel issues that must remain confidential.”

As the coronavirus outbreak grew, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a stay-at-home order March 21 for all residents to remain in their homes aside from essential shopping and activities. But, after being deemed a “critical employee” for his work as a clerk-typist in the township’s tax department, Brown was told to report to work as usual.

Around mid-March, employees in the township’s tax assessor’s office were exposed to COVID-19, the suit alleges, and the virus began to spread among employees in Brown’s department. On March 20, a day before Murphy’s order, the township notified all its employees that all staff that were experiencing symptoms of the virus should not report to work, the suit said.

Days later, on March 26, Brown began experiencing symptoms of the virus, including fatigue, fever and coughing, according to his lawsuit. Brown visited a doctor, who gave him a note to give the township that certified he was being treated for COVID-19.

But it was after April 17, when Brown showed the township the doctor’s note, that he began to run into problems, being given different reasons by the township why he wasn’t eligible for federal sick leave, according to the complaint.

As part of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, certain employees are entitled to up to two weeks, or 80 hours, of paid sick leave to take care of family or loved ones stricken with the coronavirus, or to recover from the virus themselves. Private employers with less than 500 employees and public employers are required to pay this sick leave.

But when Brown asked for two weeks of medical leave through the act, he claims he was told by someone at the township that he did not qualify, since the township already provided sick leave and vacation time. After Brown talked to an attorney and came back to the township with information from the U.S. Department of Labor that said he could receive federal sick leave along with sick leave from his public job, he was once again denied, the complaint alleges.

This time, Malik told Brown that the township didn’t need to give the federal sick leave because it had more than 500 employees, the complaint said.

According to the website for New Jersey’s department of labor, the 500 employee exemption specifically applies to private employers. Most government employers are also required to pay the federal sick leave, according to the website.

At this point, Malik told Brown that if he felt he was entitled to the federal sick leave, he should file a complaint with the department of labor, the complaint said. Brown once again spoke to an attorney, who gave him information that showed the 500 employee exemption only applied to private employers. After Brown sent the information to Malik on May 7, he had not received a response as of June 19, when the complaint was filed.

After he complained and tried to get the federal sick leave pay, Brown said he began to see “improper reductions” to his pay and was given no explanation. The pay reduction amounted to around 10 hours of work lost, said Colin Page, Brown’s attorney.

As of Thursday afternoon, Brown was still employed by the township and the pay reductions had not been corrected, said Page.

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