Articles Posted in Labor and Employment

Published on:

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  A recent unpublished decision by the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court may have expanded those already strong protections.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.

Published on:

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.

Published on:

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.

Published on:

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.

Published on:

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.”

Published on:

baby-2242638__340-300x210New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination gives employees some of the strongest legal protections against discrimination and harassment in the nation.  However, these protections have recently been expanded.  In one of his last acts as governor, Chris Christie signed the Legislature’s amendment to the Law Against Discrimination its protections to include mothers who are breastfeeding.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination

The Law Against Discrimination was enacted in 1945, placing New Jersey at the forefront in protecting employees’ from workplace discrimination.  Indeed, the Law Against Discrimination was the first statewide civil rights enforcement law.  Since then it has been amended many times by legislation and court decisions, always expanding and strengthening New Jersey’s protections against discrimination.

Published on:

the-dollar-3125419__340-300x200Some of the areas in which businesses make their largest investments of time and expense are trade secrets (including customer lists) customer relations and client development, and employee development.  However, these interests may conflict, especially when highly placed employees leave a firm.  This is an area of potentially bitter dispute in New Jersey business law and employment law.

Businesses have many trade secrets, but the most important of these is often information regarding its customers.  Because of intense competition, and the time, effort and expense which businesses invest in cultivating their clients, customer lists, especially customer lists in service industries, are protected by the common law and New Jerseys Trade Secrets Act.

Businesses also invest significant expense in training and developing their employees, even aside from salary and benefits.  Thus, New Jersey business law and employment law imposed a duty of loyalty on employees, even those who do not have a restrictive covenant.  This duty of loyalty prohibits employees from competing with their employers while they are employed.  An employee may not induce her employer’s employees or customers to leave her employer, nor may she appropriate her employer’s trade secrets.  The employee may plan to leave, and if the employee does not have a restrictive covenant she can even seek employment with competitors or even set up a business entity which will compete with the employer after she leaves. However, the employee cannot go beyond the planning stage while still employed.

Published on:

help-164755__340-300x199The New Jersey Appellate Division recently issued a decision which found an arbitration agreement unenforceable against a plaintiff who was alleging age discrimination under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 (“LAD”). Our attorneys represent both employers and employees in employment law, and the determination of whether an arbitration agreement is enforceable is one of the first issues that must be decided in any case where there is a signed arbitration agreement.

The decision was in the case of Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc.  In that case, the employer, Marilyn Flanzman, was an eighty-two year old former weight loss counselor who worked for Jenny Craig, Inc. for twenty-six years.  Who filed suit for alleged age discrimination and harassment.  The trial court below compelled the case to proceed to arbitration.  Marilyn filed an appeal based on the trial court’s order to compel arbitration.  On appeal, the Appellate Division was asked to determine whether the arbitration agreement between the parties was invalidated because the parties failed to identify any arbitration forum or process for conducting the arbitration.

The Appellate Division ultimately ruled that the parties lacked a “meeting of the minds” and therefore held that the arbitration agreement was invalid, reversing the trial court’s decision below.  The Court came to its decision because neither party could identify the rights that plaintiff was given under the arbitration agreement in exchange for plaintiff waiving her right to a jury trial.  In its opinion, the Appellate Division found “selecting an arbitral institution informs the parties, at a minimum, about the institution’s general arbitration rules and procedures.  Without knowing this basic information, parties to an arbitration agreement will be unfamiliar with the rights that replaced judicial adjudication.  That is the parties will not reach a ‘meeting of the minds.’”

Published on:

agreement-300x200The Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court recently issued an instructive decision about arbitration agreements in employment law disputes.  The case does not invalidate arbitration agreements – they are protected by both federal and New Jersey law – but it does show that the trend is that arbitration agreements are being construed strictly against the employers which drafted them.

The Skuse Case

In the case of Amy Skuse v. Pfizer, Inc., the Appellate Division invalidated an electronic arbitration agreement used by Pfizer for all its employees.  The “agreement” was not on paper, but an electronic “training module.”  Employees received an email which instructed them to complete the “electronic training.”  Even if they didn’t, complete the training module, the employees would have be deemed to have agreed to the arbitration provision by continuing to work for Pfizer for another 60 days.  The module allowed them to scroll past the text of the provision, and did not provide for the employees to indicate their agreement to arbitration, only their “acknowledgement” of the policy.  The module then thanked the employee for “reviewing” the policy, but not for agreeing to it.

Published on:

yes-3029367__340-300x158The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey recently issued a decision which illustrates some of the weaknesses in both Federal and New Jersey Employment law, particularly Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.  Our attorneys represent both employers and employees in employment law, and this issue is of utmost concern to us.

The decision was in the case of Axakowsky v. NFL Productions, LLC, d/b/a NFL Films.  In that case, Nadia Axakowsky sued NFL Productions, LLC, for sexual harassment under Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.  The judge dismissed the case on summary judgment, ruling that Axakowsky was an independent contractor and therefore was not protected by either law.

The judge undertook a detailed analysis under federal case law interpreting Title VII.  Culminating with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company v. Darden in 1992, the federal courts have developed a test to determine whether a worker classified as a contractor is in reality an employee entitled to protection under Title VII.  The judge went into detail examining all the factors in the relationship, and determined that Axakowsky was in reality a contractor, not an employee, and therefore not entitled to protection under Title VII.  Without going into detail, given that Axakowsky worked only one and a half hours per week as a voice-over artist and continued to audition for and accept other work, the analysis was in all likelihood correct.