With lives uprooted throughout the world due to COVID-19, Seton Hall Law faculty members
offer expert legal commentary on various issues. The below highlights professors addressing
the ongoing impacts of the pandemic:
MedicalResearch.com: Do health care workers have an ethical and/or legal obligation to provide treatment
during an infectious disease outbreak? Are there exceptions such as pregnancy, if
the health care worker is her/himself immunocompromised or have young children at
Response: As a legal matter, health care workers can generally be required to fulfill pre-existing
employment or contractual obligations during an infectious disease outbreak. For example,
an emergency room nurse who refuses to come to work during a pandemic can be disciplined
or fired; a physician who breaches a contractual obligation to provide on-call services
during an outbreak can be held liable for damages. In addition to loss of employment
and contractual damages, other potential consequences for failing to honor pre-existing
commitments during a pandemic could include professional discipline for patient abandonment
and, for physicians with on-call responsibilities in hospital emergency departments,
civil fines under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.
“When there are limited resources, it’s not possible to give everything to patients
that might benefit them. Thinking about it from that perspective, it’s about what’s
best for the community. That’s the shift—to a thoughtful use of limited resources
to achieve the best outcome for the population as a whole,” says Coleman, acknowledging
that this requires a mental shift in perspective.
For rent forgiveness to work, Franzese said, the financial burdens "must be shared
by federal and state government and the private sectors." Otherwise, those "much-needed
rent forgiveness policies unduly burden landlords who remain obliged to pay property
taxes and remit mortgage payments."
"There's always a danger of overreaction in a time of emergency," said Jonathan Hafetz,
a law professor at Seton Hall University. It "would be very problematic to try to
expand executive powers that aren't at least reasonably related to the emergency measures
that need to be taken and aren't grounded in law."
“We really don’t know, but it does seem that we will probably see a decrease, at least
temporarily, in divorce rates,” said Solangel Maldonado, a Seton Hall University law
professor. “People are losing jobs and can’t afford to move out.”
With stay-at-home orders in effect throughout New Jersey and surrounding states, it
is clear to some that the directives of various governors have slowed economic activity
and other pollution from the transportation sector, the single biggest source of some
of the pollutants responsible for bad air quality.
“It’s a little bit early to tie a direct link,’’ said Heather Payne, an associate
professor of law at Seton Hall University, but she cited two likely factors — the
state’s reliance on carbon-free sources of electricity generation and a drop in the
emissions in the transportation sector.
If people are staying at home and not driving to work and not driving to stores, there
are a lot less emissions from the transportation sector, Payne said.
Charles Sullivan, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, agrees that New Jersey offers
workers some very strong protections. When it comes to federal protections, there
are a lot of moving parts as more action is expected from Congress.
The biggest change so far is with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA),
which previously guaranteed eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each
year with no threat of job loss, Sullivan said. Not all employers were subject to
— and not all employees were protected by — the law.
“Anyone who has not filed either return should file a return for 2019 as soon as possible,
even if they owe no taxes,” said tax policy expert Richard Winchester, a visiting
professor at Seton Hall University School of Law. “That will prevent them from being
overlooked for these payments.” Also, make sure to include direct-deposit banking
information on your return so the IRS knows where to send the check.
The check is technically an advance payment of a refundable credit on your 2020 tax
return, which you won’t have to file until April 15, 2021. But since this is an urgent
situation, the government is using the information it already has to determine the
amount you get now. So it’s looking to your 2018 or 2019 tax return, assuming you
were required to file for those years.
Those details can be out of date, according to Richard Winchester, tax policy expert
and visiting professor at the Seton Hall University School of Law.
“The information on your return can change from year to year,” he says. “That means
it’s possible that someone might get paid less than they should, while others might
get paid more than they should.”