Articles Posted in Labor and Employment

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Being a cop is a tough job.  It is physically dangerous, and often thankless.  However, it is intensely important, and as a result our society places great trust, authority and responsibility in our law enforcement officers.  Because of this special trust, the law holds law enforcement officers to a higher standard.  And because of the job’s difficulty and importance, it also gives law enforcement officers greater due process rights than other employees before they are disciplined.

Employment Protections for Law Enforcement Officers

New Jersey employment law provides that permanent police officer may not be disciplined except for “just cause,” or have her employment terminated for political reasons – or indeed any reason “other than incapacity, misconduct, or disobedience of rules and regulations established for the government of the police department.”  An officer may be disciplined only after she receives notice of the charges against her and is given a fair and impartial hearing.  The specific language of the statute provides:

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Gender discrimination is one of the most heavily litigated areas of New Jersey Employment Law. The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion involving the issue of “sex plus” gender discrimination which will apply equally to New Jersey’s state and federal courts.

What is “Sex Plus” Discrimination?

Although it didn’t call it that, the concept of “sex plus” discrimination was first adopted by the United States Supreme Court in a 1971 decision involving Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in the case of Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp. In that case a woman applied for a job in which three quarters of the employees were female, and thus it was clear that the employer did not discriminate against women. However, it did not accept applications from women with pre-school age children, while at the same time it accepted and employed men with pre-school age children. The Supreme Court found that this was sex discrimination because it placed barriers to work on women that it did not place on them.

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medical-marijuana-300x300While the sale and possession of marijuana are flatly illegal under federal law, and the illegal status of recreational marijuana under New Jersey law has not changed yet, the medical use of marijuana is legal under New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Act for ALS, anxiety, certain chronic pain conditions, migraine headaches, MS, opioid addiction, terminal cancer, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, terminal illness with less than twelve months of life expectancy, and Tourette’s Syndrome. It may also be used to treat HIV, acquired immune deficiency syndrome and cancer if severe or chronic pain, severe nausea or vomiting, cachexia or wasting syndrome result from treatment.  Additionally, seizure disorder, epilepsy, Intractable skeletal muscular spasticity, glaucoma and PTSD qualify for medical marijuana treatment if the patient is intolerant of or resistant to conventional therapy.

The Interplay of Medical Marijuana and Disability Protections under New Jersey Employment Law

The Compassionate Use Act contains the language that “Nothing in this act shall be construed to require… an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.”  On the other hand, New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination does require employers to make reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability if the accomodation would allow her to work without causing undue hardship for the employer.  The conditions which allow for the use of medical marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act would in all likelihood constitute “disabilities” under the Law Against Discrimination.  These two laws, both of which laudably aim to protect vulnerable people, thus appear to be in conflict.

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New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees because they have a “disability.”

Law Against Discrimination also requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” so that employees can do their jobs despite their disabilities.  New Jersey’s Workers Compensation Act requires employers to carry workers compensation insurance which provides for medical coverage and compensation for employees who are injured on the job.  However, there are relatively few cases examining the interplay of these two important New Jersey employment laws.  However, New Jersey’s Supreme Court recently issued an important decision on just this interplay in the case of Caraballo v. City of Jersey City Police Department.

Disability Discrimination and Reasonable Accommodation Under New Jersey Employment Law

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office-2009693__340-300x200New Jersey employment law generally recognizes that employees have a limited right to privacy in the workplace, including in their digital life.  However, a recent federal appellate decision limited the reach of employee privacy.  It is an unpublished decision, and therefore not binding.  However, it is a troubling outcome.

The New Jersey Supreme Court Finds Employees Have Privacy Rights

People generally have a right to privacy which they do not lose when entering the work force.  The New Jersey Supreme Court explained in the 1992 case of Hennessey v. Coastal Eagle Point Oil Co. that the source of this right in New Jersey Employment law comes from the New Jersey Constitution and the common law.  However, in that same case, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy in the workplace is not absolute, and may yield to legitimate public policy concerns such as public and employee safety.

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whistleblower-1764379__340-300x300New Jersey employment law has some of the strongest employee protections in the United States.  A recent unpublished decision by the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court may have expanded those already strong protections.

New Jersey Whistleblower Laws

New Jersey has two main employment laws protecting whistleblowers.  The first is the common law rule established by New Jersey’s Supreme Court in the case of Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. in 1980, which prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee in violation of a “clear mandate of public policy” found in legislation; administrative rules, regulations and decisions; and judicial decisions.  Thus, an employer may not discipline an employee for disclosing, objecting to or refusing to participate in a practice which violated one of these policies.

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girl-2607176__340-300x240There are many types of medical leave benefits which exist in New Jersey for employees, and they are ever-expanding and evolving. There is the federal Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”) which allows an employee to take time off from work either for that employee’s own medical issues or to care for a seriously ill family member. The FMLA allows an employee to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year as long as the employer has fifty or more employees.

To supplement this, in 2008 New Jersey enacted the Family Leave Act. That law provided up to six weeks of paid time off for employees to care for sick family members or newborn babies. The FLA did not cover time off for the employee’s own illness (because that is covered by New Jersey’s Temporary Disability Insurance laws (“TDI”)). Still, under the FLA, employees could take 6 weeks off to bond with or care for a family member and their jobs were protected during that period. The employee would receive up to 2/3rds of their normal weekly salary or wages (or approximately 66% of wages), up to a maximum of $650 per week. As with the FMLA, the FLA only applied to employers with fifty or more employees.

For an employee who had to be out for her own medical condition, pregnancy, or disability, that employee could file for TDI benefits. To qualify for TDI, an employee would need to be out of work for a medical reason for more than seven days. TDI benefits provide employees with up to 26 weeks of partial salary replacement. As with the 2008 FLA, the employee could receive up to 2/3rds of her normal wages. However, with TDI, that amount maxes-out at $637 per week.

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american-963191__340-300x200Background

On February 4, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation which will raise the minimum wage in increments culminating in a minimum wage of $15 per hour on January 1, 2024.  The new law puts New Jersey at the forefront of the “living wage” movement, while the phase in is designed to lessen the impact on small businesses.  The new law amends the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, which governs minimum wage and overtime requirements.

The legislation is the result of negotiations between the Governor and Legislature lasting more than a year.  The amendment was praised by labor unions and most Democrats in the state, but opposed by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and most Republicans.

 

The New Rates and Their Effective Dates

The new wages will be implemented according to the following schedule.

January 1, 2019 $8.85 per hour
July 1, 2019 $10 per hour
January 1, 2020 $ 11 per hour
January 1, 2021 $ 12 per hour
January 1, 2022 $ 13 per hour
January 1, 2023 $ 14 per hour
January 1, 2024 $ 15 per hour
January 1 of each subsequent year The then existing rate shall be increased by the increase in the consumer price index for all urban wage earners and clerical workers (CPI-W) for the 12 months preceding the prior September 20th.
January 1 of each subsequent year If the Federal minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act is increased such that the increase would exceed the rate under the above schedules, then the New Jersey minimum wage rate shall be raised to match the Federal rate.

 

As with previous versions of the Wage and Hour Law (as well as the Fair Labor Standards Act), employers are still required to pay their non-exempt employees time and a half for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week.

 

Exceptions

The new legislation retains the previous exemptions to New Jersey’s minimum wage and overtime requirements, including most significantly the exemptions for executive, administrative and professional employees.

Full-time students employed by their colleges need only be paid 85 percent of the then current minimum wage rate.  New employees may be paid a “training wage” for their first 120 hours of work, the rate of which cannot be less than 90 percent of the minimum wage rate then in effect.

The minimum wage rate for employees of “small employers” (ie., those defined as having less than six employees) are phased in so that they do not reach those paid by employees with six or more employees until January 1, 2028.  Piece-rate or farm employees also receive a lesser minimum wage rate.

The amendment also establishes a new class of workers referred to as “Employee[s] with an impairment.”  These employees are defined as

an employee earning at least the minimum wage [then] effective… whose work capacity is significantly impaired by age or physical or mental deficiency or injury and who, based on a determination by the State, is found eligible for personal assistance services or prescribed drugs because without such services or drugs the individual would be unable to perform the essential functions of the employment position that the individual holds.

Employers who employ employees with an impairment can receive tax credits.

 

The Takeaway

Employers need to be aware of the amendment’s requirements.  They need to update their policies and pay practices accordingly.

Employees should be aware of their new rights under the legislation.

 

Contact Us

Our employment attorneys represent both employees and employers in the full range of employment law issues, including wage and hour issues.  Call us at (973) 890-0004.  We can help.

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contract-1464917__340-300x200Senator Marco Rubio recently introduced the Freedom to Compete Act. This proposed law would prohibit employers from entering into or enforcing non-compete agreements with lower level employees while simultaneously protecting employers’ trade secrets.

Non-Compete Agreements

Non-compete agreements are binding contractual restrictive covenants which limit an employee’s ability to compete with her employer after she leaves or while she is employed. These agreements normally prohibit the employee from forming a competing business, and also from directly or indirectly capacity by working for a competitor or soliciting their employer’s customers.

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macbook-336704__340-300x200The Benefits and Responsibilities of Ownership

Becoming the owner of a business has tremendous advantages:  Owners can rise or fall based on their own merits, and when expenses are paid the remaining profits belong to the owners.  However, there are also disadvantages, such as the risk that the business will lose money, and responsibility for the business’s payroll and debt.  In addition to this stands business owners’ duties to their co-owners, be they partners in a partnership, shareholders in a corporation, or members in a limited liability company.

Under New Jersey business law, owners are placed in a special position of trust vis a vis their fellow owners, and the law thus imposes special responsibilities on them.  These responsibilities are known as “fiduciary duties.”