Articles Tagged with “New Jersey Employment Lawyers”

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In the case of Secretary of United States Department of Labor vs. Bristol Excavating, Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, recently issued an important, precedential opinion on when payments by third-parties need to be included by employers in the calculation of their employees’ overtime pay rates.

Bristol Excavating, Inc. (Bristol) is a small excavation contractor.  Bristol was a subcontract for Talisman Energy, Inc., a large producer of natural gas.  Bristol provided Talisman with equipment, labor and services at Talisman’s drilling sites.  Bristol’s employees often worked more than 40 hours per week, and Bristol paid them “overtime,” or one and a half times the regular hourly rate which Bristol normally paid them (“time and a half”) for all the hours they worked over 40 hours in one week.

Talisman offered workers at its sites – not just its own employees – separate bonuses rewarding them for safety, efficiency and productively measured by completion of work.  Bristol’s employees asked Bristol if they could participate.  Bristol agreed, and also agreed to do the administrative work.  This administrative work included paying the bonuses through Bristol’s payroll, and taking out all applicable tax withholdings.  Bristol did not include these bonuses in its calculation for overtime pay for its employees because it was not Bristol’s money with which the employees were being paid.

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Both New Jersey’s tenure laws in Title 18A, which govern employees in New Jersey’s public schools, and the New Jersey Civil Service Act in Title 11A and Civil Service regulations are designed to ensure that government employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotion, etc., are made based on merit rather than nepotism, cronyism, racism, sexism, favoritism or politics.  Of course, these factors still come into play, and employers seek ways around these laws.  The New Jersey Supreme Court recently rejected such an attempt by the Newark School District to terminate a tenured secretary.

Brenda Miller was an employee of the Newark School District, which had been taken over and operated by the State of New Jersey.  The District had adopted the Civil Service Act, Title 11A of New Jersey Statutes, to govern its employees.  As public school employees, however, their employment was also governed by Title 18A, which governs New Jersey’s public grammar schools, middle schools, high schools and state colleges.

Brenda was hired in 1998 and held clerical and secretarial positions through 2012.  By virtue of this service she had acquired tenure under Title 18A.  These positions were also governed by the Civil Service System, and were considered “classified” titles.  In 2012, however, the District reclassified Brenda’s current position to an “unclassified” confidential assistant, which as an unclassified title did not have the same civil service protections as classified positions – indeed, unclassified positions have little more protection than an employment at will job in the private sector.  In 2014, citing the unclassified status of Brenda’s title, the District terminated her.  It did not provide her with notice or a hearing.

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Governor Murphy signed New Jersey’s Equal Pay Act into law in 2018.  The NJEPA  takes a necessary step in making pay discrepancies in the workplace more transparent with the hopes that this will address the pay differential between white men minorities, and women.  Essentially, it bars any penalty to any employee for requesting or disclosing information regarding any employee’s job title, rate of compensation, benefits, race, gender, ethnicity, or other protected characteristic when the purpose of the inquiry or disclosure to investigate the possibility of discriminatory treatment.  (While the NJEPA was originally intended to address inequitable pay for women, it was expanded to cover all protected classes of people.)

This allows for employees to obtain information which previously (and even now) is largely safeguarded by employers as “private” in order to determine whether they are being discriminated against based upon a protected classification.   Any employer “policy” which forbids discussing compensation in the workplace could be considered void by the law.

The NJEPA amended New Jersey’s Laws Against Discrimination to enable the use of the protections of that statute. The NJEPA also specifically makes it unlawful to pay employees in protected classes a different rate of compensation when performing substantially similar work considering skill, effort, and responsibilities. Differentials may still exist when based on seniority, merit, education, productivity, experience, and other legitimate business reasons. The Act also allows expands upon the LAD’s typical 2-year statute of limitations by setting forth that limitation period restarts each time the employee receives unequal compensation resulting from a discriminatory decision or practice.  The employee may also recover up to 6 years of back pay as a result of a violation by the employer.  Additionally, the employee may receive treble damages – meaning that they may recover three times the monetary damages awarded as a result of the pay discrepancy.

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The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employers, including New Jersey employers, pay their non-exempt employees minimum wage and overtime (the vast majority of employees are not subject to an exemptions; the major exemptions are for executive, administrative and professional employees, and outside sales).  Independent contractors, however, are not protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Claims of misclassification of employees have recently led to significant amounts of litigation.

The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion on misclassification of workers in the case of Priya Verma v. 3001 Castor, Inc., which found that adult dancers were employees entitled to the protection of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.  While the case arose in Pennsylvania Federal Court, the Third Circuit rules on appeals from federal courts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the United States Virgin Islands, so it’s decisions determine how federal law, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, will be applied are binding in New Jersey.

Background

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Willful Violations Under The Fair Labor Standards Act

352099_construction_3-002-300x225The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act establishes rates of minimum wage and overtime pay which employers must pay to their employees.  Employees successfully suing their employers for violations of these requirements can recover their lost wages, and their employers will be required to pay their attorneys fees and litigation costs.  The Fair Labor Standards Act provides that willful violations of these requirements will result in double damages – ie., the employer will be required pay the employee twice the amount of wages or overtime it did not pay.  A willful violation also extends the statute of limitations for suing from two years to three.

Willfulness: The Question Facing the Third Circuit

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New Jersey passed the Wage Theft Act on August 6, 2019.  It is being viewed as one of the strongest and broadest wage theft laws in the nation, and rightly so.  The New Jersey Wage Theft Act increases penalties that employers may be subject to under New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law with the addition of a liquidated damages provision and further protections for employees who bring retaliation claims.  The New Jersey Wage Theft Act also expands the employers who may be liable for employee claims by making both employers and labor contractors jointly and severally liable for violations and prohibiting waivers regarding joint and several liability.

What is Wage Theft?

Wage theft can come in a variety of different forms but boils down to circumstances where an employer does not pay an employee the amount he is owed.  The following are a few examples where an employee may have a claim for wage theft: (1) an employee is not getting paid for the full amount of hours worked; (2) a non-exempt employee is not be getting paid overtime wage rates for hours he has worked in excess of 40 hours for a week; (3) an employee’s paycheck from his employer bounces; and (4) an employer deducts time out of an employee’s paycheck for breaks which the employee never took.  As you can see from these examples, wage theft is not limited to any one industry or job.

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Background: The Law Against Discrimination

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (often referred to as the “LAD” or the “NJLAD”) prohibits discrimination and harassment against employees because of a wide variety of immutable characteristics. Among these are protections against discrimination and harassment because of an employee’s age and disability. The Law Against Discrimination’s protections have been described as among the strongest in the country.

The Caraballero Case

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Tenure is one of the most important protections for teachers in New Jersey employment law.  Both full-time and part-time teachers may receive tenure protection.  However, no New Jersey court has addressed the situation where a part-time tenured teacher’s earnings were reduced when her hours were cut, even though her hourly rate of pay was slightly increased.  However, in the recent case of Zimmerman v. Sussex County Educational Services Commission, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed this issue head on.

Background: General Principles About Tenure for New Jersey Teachers

One of the bedrock principles of New Jersey public education employment law is tenure protection.  Tenure of teaching staff members employed in the positions of teacher, principal, assistant principal, vice-principal, assistant superintendent, athletic trainer, school nurse and other positions in public schools requiring certification is generally governed by Title 18A of New Jersey Statutes. It was designed to protect competent and qualified teaching staff member from being subject to removal, discipline or “reduction in compensation” for “unfounded, flimsy or political reasons.” Tenure is a statutory right, not contractual.  It cannot be waived, forfeited or bargained away.  When a teacher satisfies the statutory requirements, she receives tenure protection.

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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.