Articles Posted in Labor and Employment

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Under the New Jersey public employment law and Title 18A of New Jersey statute, which governs New Jersey employment law for public school and public college employees, if an employee is actually performing the work of a particular position, even though they are designated in another, they must receive the compensation for the job they are working in.  In other words, public employers can’t underpay employeesbully-3233568__340-300x272 by having them fill a higher or more difficult position while paying them for a lower or less difficult one.  The Appellate Division recently examined these statutes.

The De Facto Employee Laws

Title 18A provides that:

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In General. The New Jersey Civil Service Act establishes three classes of civil service employees: Career (or “classified”), unclassified and, in State service, the Senior Executive Service.   The New Jersey Civil Service Commission has the job of classifying positions – it is the positions which are classified, not people. tenure-thumb-170x110-48818

Classification.  Each position in the career and unclassified services are then assigned to a job title by the Commission.  It specifies the qualifications, duties and responsibilities for each title.  It does this through a classification plan for all State government positions and similar plans for political subdivisions.  When necessary, the Commission will modify specifications to ensure their accuracy.  It is also responsible for notifying appointing authorities and employees of changes in classification plans which effect them.

Public employees in New Jersey Civil Service  must be appointed under a title which corresponds to the duties which the employee actually performs.  The employer’s authority to assign terms of office or employment is a limited by the terms of the classification plan. Appointing authorities are required to notify the Commission of new positions, organizational changes, or changes to employee responsibilities; they must annually submit updated organizational charts.  In State service, the negotiations representative (ie., the union) must be given notice of changes to the plan, including: reorganizations of titles or title series, or requests for new ones; request for reevaluation of job content; requests for modification of job specifications; and changes to flextime programs, alternate workweek programs and or hours.

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The Civil Service Commission

The New Jersey Civil Service System is governed by the Civil Service Act and Civil Service Regulations.  Chapter 2 of Title 11A of the Civil Service Act, N.J.S.A. 11A:2-1, et seq., establishes the  New Jersey Civil Service Commission (thestone-judge-778488-m-thumb-240x320-71245-thumb-220x293-71246-thumb-220x293-71247 “Commission”).   The Commission is a department of the executive branch of the New Jersey State Government.  Administratively it is part of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Nonetheless, it operates as an independent agency.  It is free from control of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The Commission has five members.  Three members are required for a forum.  This has led to a backlog of cases when less than three have been appointed.

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Some complain that civil service hinders efficient government.  Managers object that it limits their ability to run their organizations by hiring, firing and imposing discipline as they believe best.  Citizens argue it makes it too hard to get rid of “bad apples.”  Employees believe it makes promotions and transfers too difficult.  Applicants think the system makes it too hard to get hired.  All these criticisms are valid, to a point. megaphone-1480342__340-300x200 However, they miss the mark because they focus on the trees but miss the forest.  Life is a series of tradeoffs; every decision is a cost/benefit analysis.

New Jersey’s Civil Service System was adopted to combat grave problems with state and local government.  New Jersey has a long history of government corruption; it is by no means a new phenomenon.  This history includes a “spoils system” which gave election winners the power to award jobs to their supporters, bribery, favoritism, nepotism, cronyism and discrimination in hiring and keeping government jobs.  It was a disgrace.  New Jersey was – and is – hardly alone in these problems, but New Jersey took it to another level. Without civil service these problems would continue unchecked.  It’s not perfect, but New Jersey is a far better place because of civil service.

In 1908, the early Twentieth Century Progressive Movement led New Jersey to adopt its first civil service laws, and to establish the Civil Service Commission to regulate civil service practices.  Then, in 1947, a constitutional convention was held at Rutgers University, in which a new Constitution was adopted.  The goal of the constitutional convention was to reform many areas of New Jersey’s state and local government.  Article VII, section 1 of the New Jersey Constitution of 1947 provided that:

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In an important New Jersey employment law ruling, the State Supreme Court held that an employer’s decision to terminate or otherwise take action against an employee influenced by the discriminatory bias of a subordinate, rather than the decisionmakers themselves, nonethelessgavel-300x200 violates the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

Background: Meade’s Employment

In the case of Michele Meade vs. the Township of Livingston, the Court explained that Michele Meade was the Township Manger for Livingston Township from 2015 until she was terminated by the Township Council in 2016.  She was the first female Township Manager in Livingston’s history.  She was replaced by a male candidate although there were female candidates, and when her replacement quit he was replaced by another male candidate.

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The Increase

New Jersey’s minimum wage rate is going up again.  The new minimum wage rate during this incremental increase is $13 per hour effective January 1, 2022.stock-photo-20612112-woman-leading-business-team

Background

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Government employees receive significant due process rights to challenge employer discipline which private sector employees and employees in non-civil service jurisdictions do not enjoy.  However, because New Jersey employment law recognizes the great responsibility placed onhttps://www.newjerseylawyersblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/195/2018/07/police-officer-sil.-300x254.png law enforcement officers, the Legislature has enacted robust procedures for police officers not covered by civil service to appeal discipline to the Superior Court.  Nonetheless, in the case of Miller vs. Borough of Berlin Police, the Appellate Division reminds us that the burden of proof remains on the officer and evidence is king.

Background

Jason Miller was a police officer with the Borough of Berlin Police Department, a non-civil service jurisdiction.  He was dispatched to a banquet hall because of a report of the theft of a purse.  Surveillance video showed an employee taking the purse, the manager gave Officer Miller the employee’s name and address, and Miller took a victim statement.  Miller told the victim that the employee was clearly identifiable and would be charged with a crime (as the victim told him she wished), and that the case was a “slam dunk.”  However, Miller did not follow up or press charges, and stated in the incident report that the victim did not wish to pursue criminal charges.  Several days later the victim called the Department to follow up.  Another officer took the call, and eventually other officers arrested the employee, who confessed.

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The Appellate Division recently issued an employment law decision in the case of Matter of City of Newark and Newark Police Superior Officers’ Association, et al., concerning the ability of public employee unions to challenge the City of Newark’s COVID-19 vaccinationus-supreme-court-300x200 requirement.  The Court expressly held that the City has the right to require these vaccines as a requirement of continued employment.  Moreover, it held that not only does it have that right, but it has no concurrent duty to negotiate with unions over the requirement.

Although this case was decided in the context of whether the vaccine requirement was a matter which needed to be negotiated between the City and its law enforcement employee unions, it appears to slam the door on objections by public employees to employer COVID vaccine mandates, and it probably shuts the door for private sector employees to make that argument as well.

The Appellate Division explained: “When a public health emergency exists, governmental entities, including local authorities, have a recognized right to require vaccinations.”  The Appellate Division explained that this right exists even in the absence of a statute giving the City that authority.

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In an important New Jersey employment law decision, the Appellate Division of the State Superior Court examined exceptions to the 90 day limit for challenging a board of education’s decision regarding a teacher’s tenure status.  In that case, Frayne v. Board of Education of the Borough of Highland Park, the Appellate Division demonstrated that the limitation period is a “hard” deadline, and missing it will likelycolumns-round-300x201 mean the teacher’s appeal will be rejected.

Background

Deana Frayne was a non-tenure track maternity leave replacement teacher for the Highland Park Board of Education from the 2008-2009 though 2011-2012 school years; thereafter she was employed as a full-time, tenure track teacher.  She signed her fourth contract as a tenure track first grade teacher for the 2015-2016 school year on May 15, 2015.   However, on June 25, 2015, she was served with a letter advising that the Board believed that she did not have tenure and that her employment would be terminated effective August 23, 2015 based on performance, behavior and attendance.  The Board offered her an agreement ending her tenure track employment, giving her sixty days health benefits and salary in exchange for a release.  She did not sign.  She then received a Rice Notice, and on August 23, 2015, the Board voted unanimously to terminate Frayne’s employment.

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The Appellate Division recently issued a decision exploring the limits of progressive discipline in New Jersey civil service discipline in thepolice-officer-829628_640-300x199 case of Matter of Collins.

Background

Darius Collins was a senior corrections officer at Norther State Prison.  He had been a corrections officer for more than two years and had no prior discipline.  On January 6, 2019, he was the patrolling supervisor of prisoners in a high security unit.  Collins admitted that he left a gate between two floors open.  This allowed two prisoners to leave their tier to take unauthorized showers.  When they got back the contents of their cells had been destroyed.  The prisoners then became out of control and a ten man extraction team was required to get the two inmates back under control.

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