New Jersey’s employment laws governing the rights and responsibilities of New Jersey teachers are found in Title 18A of New Jersey Statutes. The laws are complex, but our employment attorneys have significant experience in representing New Jersey teachers in this complex area. Indeed, Maurice McLaughlin wrote the seminal treatise on the rights of public school teachers under New Jersey employment law. This blog briefly summarizes untenured teachers’ rights.
Status of Non-Tenured Teachers
New Jersey is an “employment at will” state. This means that normally an employee can be fired for any reason –even mistaken reasons – so long as the motivation is not illegal. New Jersey’s tenure protection laws provide strong protections from the harshness of employment at will, but until teachers acquire tenure they have few protections against termination, even without cause.
For teaching staff members employed before the 2012-2013 school year, the time frame was three years to acquire tenure, and had been for over a century. However, the TEACHNJ Act of 2012 changed the time period to four years. Now, a teacher can meet the four year requirement for tenure one of three ways. The teacher can serve more than four consecutive calendar years, four consecutive academic years plus employment at the beginning of the following academic year (commonly referred to as “four years and a day”), or a cumulative total of more than four academic years within five consecutive academic years. Until satisfying one of those requirements, a teacher does not have tenure protection under New Jersey employment law.
Untenured Teachers’ Rights
While untenured teachers do not have nearly the rights that tenured teachers have, and their boards of education may terminate them without cause, they do have certain rights which private sector employees do not have.
- Advance Notice. Non-tenured teachers must receive notice in writing that they are either being offered a new contract or non-renewed by May 15th. If they don’t receive this they are deemed to have received an offer for a new contract. The employee must give notice of acceptance by June 1st.
- Statement of Reasons. A teacher has the right to receive the reasons why she was terminated or non-renewed if she asks.
- Rice Notice. An employee must be given notice that the board of education will be discussing her employment. This requirement is known as a “Rice Notice” after the case in which the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey found that New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act required this notice.
- Donaldson Hearing. The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that teachers who are being let go also have the right to appear before the board and try to convince the board members that they should be able to continue their employment.
Additional Protections Which All New Jersey Employees Receive, Including Untenured Teachers
While a teacher may not be protected by tenure, she is still protected by all the laws protecting every employee in the state, and New Jersey has some of the strongest employee protections.
Discrimination. Both New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevent discrimination in employment against any employee, including teachers. The Law Against Discrimination is probably the most expansive in the nation. It prohibits discrimination against employees because of a wide range of reasons, including race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex (including pregnancy), familial status, marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information, liability for military service, and mental or physical disability, perceived disability, and AIDS and HIV status.
- Whistleblowing. Employers cannot retaliate against employees for objecting, disclosing or refusing to participate in something the employee reasonably believes is illegal.
- Harassment. Harassment because of discrimination or “whistleblowing” is also prohibited. To be protected, the harassment the employee suffered must be severe or pervasive, and must be because of a prohibited reason.
- Disabilities and Workers Compensation. Employees may not take action against employees because of their disability (provided they can perform their job with reasonable accommodation) or because they filed a workers compensation claim.
The takeaway from this is that while an untenured teacher does not have as secure a position as a teacher with tenure, she still has significant protections. Employment law is complex though, and it is important to have experienced counsel helping you navigating these laws.
Our New Jersey employment lawyers have significant experience representing teachers and other education employees. We can help. E-mail us or call (973) 890-0004.