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Articles Tagged with “New Jersey employment law.”

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New Jersey employment law provides that government employees may be fired for conviction of a crime, and for many crimes they must be fired.  However, if they are exonerated they may be reinstated to their position.  They may be subject to further discipline, but if they are not they may also receive back pay, police-hoboken-train-stationseniority and benefits for the period of their suspension.

Suspension During Criminal Charges

New Jersey Civil Service Commission regulations provide that an employee’s conviction of a crime is grounds for discipline.  An employee suspended while a criminal complaint or indictment is pending must be served with a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action (known as a “PNDA”). The PNDA should include a statement that forfeiture of the employee’s position may result, and that the employee may choose to consult with an attorney.  In this case representation by an attorney is always advisable.  Within five days of receipt of the PNDA, the employee may request a departmental hearing. If no request is made (within five days or an agreed upon extension) the employer may issue a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action (an “FNDA”).

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The New Jersey Supreme Court recently issued an important employment law decision in the case of  Barila v. Board of Education of Cliffside Park regarding the ability of unions to bargain away employee benefits enjoyed under prior contracts.teacher-300x224

Benefits, such as time off, are terms and conditions of employment which may be bargained for in collective negotiations.  (The term “collective negotiations” is used in the public sector instead of “collective bargaining” because, unlike in the private sector, government employees do not have the right to strike under New Jersey employment law.)  The resulting contract (or “collective negotiation agreement”) sets the terms and conditions of employment, provided the parties have bargained in good faith and the employees receive the minimum levels required by statute.

In this case, under prior contracts between the Cliffside Park Board of Education and the teachers union, including the most recent one in effect from 2012 through 2015, longer term employees could carry over and be paid for their unused sick days up to $25,000.  Not all employees could do so, however, because the New Jersey Legislature had passed a law limiting payment for unused sick time to $15,000 for employees who commenced work on May 21, 2010 or thereafter.  The statutory limit did not apply to employees who started work before May 21, 2010.

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Collectively, New Jersey state and local governments are the largest employer in the State.  Most of these jurisdictions are governed by the New Jersey Civil Service Act.  In New Jersey Civil Service jurisdictions, hiring, firing, promotion and discipline is governed by the Civil Service Act and Regulations.  This makes the Civil Service System one of the most important elements in New Jersey employment law.

The Use of Eligible Lists in Hiring and Promotion

Candidates for initial hiring and promotion in the permanent, career, unclassified civil service are selected and appointed based on their civil-service-jobs-300x200placement on eligible lists (also referred to as “certifications”).  There are five types of eligible lists: Open competitive lists, promotional lists, regular reemployment lists, police and fire reemployment lists, and special reemployment lists.

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The key to New Jersey Civil Service hiring and promotion is the examination.  The State Constitution and New Jersey Civil Service Act require merit-based appointments based, whenever possible, on examinations.

Announcements.  The New Jersey Civil Service Commission is responsible for administrating examinations which fairly test applicants’ mulitple-choice-exam-300x200knowledge, skills and abilities for the job.  Announcements are posted on the Commission’s website, and provided by the employer. Announcements include title, salary information, admission qualifications, filing information, and duties and responsibilities. No unannounced requirements can be considered.  Applications must be filed by the announced date.  The applicant must be a resident of New Jersey and the specified local jurisdiction, unless a different residency requirement is specified or there are not enough available qualified residents.  Applicants for municipal law enforcement or firefighter positions must be under 35 for open competitive examinations, except that applicants under 45 may subtract prior law enforcement experience to meet the 35 year age requirement.  Veterans may subtract their service from their age to determine eligibility.

Types of Examinations.  Examinations may be written; oral; performance evaluation; physical performance tests; assessment exercises; and evaluation of education, training and experience.  The goal is to objectively measure an applicant’s fitness and merit.  Thus, while subjectivity in developing an examination is not forbidden, it must be limited.

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creative-signstop-age-discrimination-260nw-520754950-300x215Amazingly, despite the law being clear for many years that age discrimination in employment is illegal, and despite the fact that both research and experience have shown the value of mature workers, age discrimination against older employees continues to be widespread in New Jersey and the country at large.  Both the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination provide strict prohibitions against employers and supervisors discriminating against older employees.

Sometimes, however, the boundaries of these laws are unclear, and guidance from the Courts is required.  On November 6, 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued an important decision affecting the rights of state and local government employees under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The Mount Lemmon Fire District Case and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

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chalk-1551571__340-300x229In the case of  Bound Brook Board of Education v. Ciripompa, the Supreme Court reviewed the extreme deference which courts are required to give arbitrator’s decisions.  However, the Supreme Court explained that this deference to the arbitrator is not unlimited.

In the Bound Brook case, two tenure charges were filed against a teacher.   The teacher, who had tenure, had allegedly been engaging in pervasive misuse of his employer-issued computer and inappropriate conduct toward female coworkers, allegedly often in the presence of or involving students.  After an investigation, the Board determined that the teacher should be fired and tenure charges were filed against the teacher.

The first count of the tenure charges was “conduct unbecoming.” The second count was not labeled, but contained allegations of inappropriate conduct and harassing behavior toward coworkers, some of a sexual nature, and occasionally involving students.  Like the local board of education, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education likewise found dismissal warranted and submitted the charges for review by an arbitrator pursuant to the TEACHNJ Act.

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frankfort-105591_960_720The Supreme Court of the United States has recently issued an opinion holding that, even perceived speech or associations (as opposed to just actual speech or associations) are protected by the Civil Rights Act.

A police officer, Jeffrey Heffernan, working in Paterson, New Jersey filed suit seeking redress for his demotion after he had been seen speaking to staff members for a candidate running for mayor and holding a yard sign supporting that candidate.  The candidate was running against the incumbent mayor who had appointed Heffernan’s superiors.  Heffernan was specifically demoted due to his “overt involvement” in the candidate’s campaign.

Unbeknownst to Heffernan’s superiors, Heffernan did not actually support the candidate, but was merely picking up the sign for his ill mother.

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employment_law_damages.jpgThe New Jersey Supreme Court recently clarified an employment law issue which has been vexing employment lawyers for decades. In its recent landmark decision in Hargrove versus Sleepy’s LLC, the Supreme Court laid out the rules for determining when a worker should be considered an employee under different New Jersey employment laws. The specific laws it addressed governed the payment of wages and overtime to employees.

This is an extremely important issue for both employers and employees – it normally determines whether a worker will get benefits such as health insurance and 401(k), and whether the worker or employer will be responsible for paying the worker’s payroll taxes, not to mention overtime.

Background

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construction 9-10.JPGThere are severe civil and administrative penalties for misclassification of workers who should actually be employees as independent contractors. If a worker is classified as an employee, the employer must pay approximately an additional 7.5 percent of her salary in payroll taxes, as well as workers compensation insurance, and the benefits which other employees get. This gives businesses a strong incentive to classify workers as independent contractors. However, this has long been illegal under both federal and New Jersey Employment law.

New Jersey has found this practice to be widespread in the construction industry, depriving workers of benefits, social security taxes, and forcing the employer to pay self-employment tax, or the employer’s portion of the payroll taxes. Additionally, the New Jersey Legislature has found that this puts businesses currently classifying workers as employees at a competitive disadvantage with those whose do not because of the higher costs they bear. New Jersey therefore enacted the New Jersey Construction Industry Independent Contractor Act.
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