In the Spotlight

Seton Hall Law

Faculty Insights During COVID-19 Pandemic

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:

Professor Carl Coleman, public health expert, was interviewed by about the far reaching global and US impacts of COVID-19: 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 home?

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.

Professor Coleman was also featured in Physican's Practice with Triage complications resulting from COVID-19:

“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.

Professor Paula Franzese, housing law expert, spoke to NBC News' Rent's due. Now what? Experts warn a housing crisis shadows the health crisis:

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."

Professor Jonathan Hafetz, human rights, constitutional law, national security expert, was quoted in CNN’s White House using legal lessons learned in travel ban fights in coronavirus travel restrictions:

"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."

Professor Solangel Maldonado, family law expert, was quoted in The Statesman's Breaking up harder to do with coronavirus, divorce experts say

“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.”

Professor Heather Payne, energy and environmental law expert, was featured in NJ Spotlight's Are COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Regulations Responsible for NJ’s Cleaner Air?

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.

Professor Charles Sullivan, employment law expert, spoke to about rights of employees if they’re fired for self-quarantining.

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.

Professor Richard Winchester, tax law expert, provides commentary to CNBCon the coronavirus stimulus bill.

“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.

He also speaks to CNBC on Thinking they won’t qualify for aid, small businesses could miss out on millions in stimulus:

Part of the confusion stems from the guidance released by the Small Business Administration, Winchester said. “We are trying to build a plane while we are in flight.”

The goal, however, is clear, he added. “All the government wants is for businesses to start paying their workers again,”  Winchester said. features Professor Winchester in Can Your Stimulus Check Be Wrong? (Yes)

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.”

Learn more via a Q&A with Tax Policy Expert on Payments to Individuals from The COVID-19 Stimulus Package.