Articles Posted in Labor and Employment

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love-3365338__340-300x191On May 2, 2018, New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy signed into law New Jersey’s Paid Sick Leave Act.  This new Act requires employers to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick time to covered employees each year (excluding most construction employees under a collective bargaining agreement and public employees who already have paid sick leave).  New Jersey is now the tenth state to enact such legislation.

In 2008 New Jersey enacted the Family Leave Act.  That law required employers to provide for up to six weeks of benefits to care for sick family members or newborn babies.  However, it does not cover the employee’s own individual sick time and only applied to employers with fifty or more employees.

In 2013, the State enacted the Security and Financial Empowerment (“SAFE”) Act which required employers to permit twenty days of unpaid leave without taking disciplinary action if the employee was a victim of domestic violence.

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New Jersey’s Civil Service System is designed so that government employees are hired based on their merit, not on nepotism, favoritism, cronyism, bribery or political connections. New Jersey’s Civil Service laws and regulations do this by setting up a system where candidates are tested and graded objectively against other applicants. They are then ranked according to their scores and other qualifications, and hired based on their rank. This testing and ranking system is administered by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission (formerly known as the Merit System Board).https://www.newjerseylawyersblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/195/2018/07/police-officer-sil.-300x254.png

One of the areas where merit is most critical is in the selection and hiring of law enforcement officers, given the vast powers and responsibilities our society places on their shoulders. As a result, the hiring process is significantly more intense than for the hiring of other civil service employees. In addition to a written test, there are also physical examinations and intense background screening.

All of these screening criteria can – and must be – objectively reviewed. However, one additional area of the law enforcement screening process can allow an examiner’s subjective bias to creep through into the testing results. This area is the psychological screening for candidates for New Jersey law enforcement jobs. Obviously this is a legitimate and important line of inquiry necessary before giving young men and women weapons and the power to arrest people. However, subjective biases can influence an examiner’s reading of the examination results. Continue reading

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workplace-615375__340-300x200The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which hears appeals from decisions in the federal courts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, recently issued a major decision interpreting the scope of coverage of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”). As the Third Circuit explained,

[The] shift from medical emergency management to primary care treatment has resulted in a “grave financial challenge” for hospital administrators. Many of them responded to this economic pressure by engaging in a practice known as “patient dumping.” That term refers to the practice of refusing to offer emergency room treatment to indigent patients who lack medical insurance, or transferring them to other medical facilities before their emergency medical condition has been stabilized. Congress attempted to address this situation by enacting EMTALA. EMTALA imposes certain mandates on hospitals regardless of whether a patient who presents to an emergency room has the ability to pay for treatment.

EMTALA requires hospitals to first examine each patient to determine whether an emergency medical condition exists. “[I]f the examination reveals the patient is suffering from an emergency medical condition, the hospital usually must stabilize the patient before getting into the business of trying to [discharge or] transfer him [or her] elsewhere.”[ A hospital that either (1) fails to properly screen a patient, or (2) releases a patient without first stabilizing his or her emergency medical condition thereby violates EMTALA.

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men-1979261__340-300x200New Jersey has joined nine other states and the District of Columbia in enacting a law to require that employers must provide their employees with paid sick leave.  The law is among the toughest in the nation, and imposes many new requirements on employers.  Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about New Jersey’s Paid Sick Leave Law.

What employers must provide paid sick leave?

Virtually all of them.

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chalk-1551566__340-300x225The Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court recently addressed a procedural question with significant implications for New Jersey teachers and other teaching staff members fighting tenure charges under the TEACHNJ Act of 2012.

The TEACHNJ Act changed the system for fighting tenure charges.  Previously, a teacher or other teaching staff member would have the right to have their appeals heard before an administrative law judge, who would normally have a trial on the merits of the teacher’s objections and defenses.  The results would then be sent to the New Jersey Department of Education, which could accept or reject the administrative law judge’s findings.  Whatever the outcome, either party could appeal the Department of Education’s decision to the Appellate Division and then to New Jersey’s Supreme Court.  Under the TEACHNJ Act, however, the administrative law process was eliminated, and objections to tenure charges are now heard by a single arbitrator in binding arbitration.  There are only very limited grounds for appeal.

Recently, a teacher had a series of tenure charges filed against him.  He had two separate charges of “inefficiency.”  He then had a later tenure charge of “conduct unbecoming” for allegedly inflicting prohibited corporal punishment on a student.  He objected that the entire controversy doctrine barred the charges because they occurred before the inefficiency charges were decided and therefore they all should have been brought together.

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back-to-school-1576791__340-300x200Under New Jersey employment law, specifically Section 6-14 of Title 18A of New Jersey Statutes, tenured teachers may be suspended on disciplinary charges with or without pay while their tenure charges are pending a determination.  However, the statute provides that if an arbitrator has not issued a decision on the charges by the 120th day of the suspension, the board of education is required to pay the suspended teacher beginning on the 121st day until the arbitration decision is issued.  If the charges are dismissed at any stage, the teacher will be reinstated with full pay for the entire period of her suspension.  If the charges are dismissed and the board of education appeals, and it continues the suspension during the appeal, the teacher must receive full pay during the appeal.  If the charges are not dismissed at the arbitration and the employee appeals, she is not entitled to pay while the appeal is pending, but if the appellate court orders her to be reinstated she will then be entitled to her lost pay for the entire suspension.  (The board is required to deduct any salary the employee was paid while she was suspended from what the board is required to pay her.)

The Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court, New Jersey’s intermediate appeals court, recently faced a situation not expressly covered by the statute – a situation where a tenured employee is suspended, the arbitrator upholds the termination, the employee appeals, and the appeals court does not order that the employee be reinstated but instead remands the case for a new arbitration hearing.  In that case, Pugliese v. State-Operated School District of the City of Newark, two tenured teachers were suspended without pay pending resolution of their disciplinary charges.  They contested the charges, and an arbitrator holding a hearing under New Jersey’s TEACHNJ Act of 2012 upheld the charges and ordered the teachers dismissed.  The teachers appealed.  The Appellate Division reversed the arbitrators’ decisions.  However, it did not order reinstatement, but rather remanded the cases for further proceedings.  The appeal, filed by the teachers, stretched the suspension well past the 120 day mark.  The teachers argued that they should be paid while the proceedings continued, but district refused because it was the employees who appealed and the charges were not dismissed.  The Commissioner of Education agreed.  The teachers appealed.

The Appellate Division held that even though it was the employees who appealed and the tenure charges were not dismissed, the district had to pay the teachers during their suspension.

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dollar-1362243__340-300x200Fulfilling one of his campaign promises, Governor Phil Murphy signed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act on April 24, 2018.  The Act amends New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.  The main purpose of the Equal Pay Act is to close the pay gap between men and women.   Governor Murphy explained, “From our first day in Trenton, we acted swiftly to support equal pay for women in the workplace and begin closing the gender wage gap. Today, we are sending a beacon far and wide to women across the Garden State and in America – the only factors to determine a worker’s wages should be intelligence, experience and capacity to do the job.  Pay equity will help us in building a stronger, fairer New Jersey.”

While its main purpose was to protect women and close the gender pay gap, the Act protects against discrimination in pay because of an employee’s immutable characteristic, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc.  The bill strengthens the Law Against Discrimination in several ways, and makes it one of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the United States.

Pay Disparities Illegal.  The Act makes it illegal to pay members of a “protected class” at compensation rates, including both pay and benefits, less than other employees not in a protected class.  Protected classes include not just gender, but also race, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, gender expression, disability, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, liability for military service, nationality, refusal to submit to a genetic test, or refusal make available the results of a genetic test to an employer.

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Wage and hour claims dealing with overtime requirements are among the most contentious in employment law litigation.  The United States Supreme Court recently issued a decision exempting one narrow class of employees (“service advisors” at automobile dealerships) from coverage.  While the specific effect of the ruling is limited, the reasoning behind it may signal a shift in the way the Supreme Court interprets the exemptions from overtime requirements in federal employment law.

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act governs wage and hour issues for most employees in the United States.  Generally speaking, unless an employee is an “exempt employee” she must receive minimum wage for all hours worked, and overtime pay at the rate of one and a half times her normal pay rate (known as “time and a half”) when she works more than forty hours in a week.  Broad categories of employees are exempt, however.  The major categories of exemptions are professional, executive and administrative employees.  Many other smaller or sub-categories of employees are also exempt.

New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law provides similar coverage for New Jersey employees, who receive protection under both state and federal law.  Both laws also prohibit retaliation against employees who file complaints about violations (although there are technical requirements about what constitutes a “complaint”), and both require the employer to pay the employee’s attorneys fees if she prevails in a lawsuit.  The main difference is that the Fair Labor Standards Act provides for double damages if the violation is “willful” – this means that if the employer willfully underpaid the employee by $1000, it must pay her $2000 in damages plus reimbursing her for her attorneys fees.  The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, on the other hand, does not provide for double damages.

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In 1945, New Jersey’s Legislature enacted the Law Against Discrimination.  It has been repeatedly revised to increase its inclusion and scope.  However, its goal remains the same today as it was in 1945: “nothing less than the eradication of the cancer of discrimination in the workplace.”  The Law Against Discrimination declares that a workplace free from discrimination is a civil right in New Jersey.

The main section of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination dealing with employment bars employers from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against employees in their pay or other terms, conditions or privileges of their employment  because of their “race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, sex, gender identity or expression, disability or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual, or because of the liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States or the nationality of any individual, or because of the refusal to submit to a genetic test or make available the results of a genetic test to an employer.”

When the Legislature enacted the Law Against Discrimination, it listed its purpose as protecting “inhabitants” of New Jersey.  However, every other section of this long Law prohibits discrimination against “any individual” or “any person.”  In 1945, this discrepancy was not an issue.  However, in today’s cyber-world, a conflict inevitably arose between the term “inhabitants,” and “any individual” or “any person”  in the context of telecommuting.  The Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court recently issued an unpublished opinion helping to clarify this issue.

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signature-3113182__340-300x200What is a Restrictive Covenant?

A restrictive covenant is a contractual agreement in which one party receives something of value in exchange for a promise not to engage in a particular type of behavior.  Restrictive covenants can bind people or businesses.

What Types of Restrictive Covenants Are There?