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Articles Tagged with employee rights

We are all in a state of high anxiety over COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus.  While we need to put personal and community health concerns first, nobody should have to lose his or her job as a result of this crisis.

But what are your New Jersey employment law rights as they relate to this pandemic?

Time off from Work

Today, in Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot discriminate against employees for using prescribed medical marijuana while off-duty.  Rather, doing so constitutes disability discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

The New Jersey Supreme Court affirms a March 17, 2019 Appellate Division opinion.  The Supreme Court’s opinion makes it clear that the Compassionate Use Act does not require employers to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace.  It also noted that the Compassionate Use Act does not permit anyone to operate or control any “vehicle, aircraft, railroad train, stationary heavy equipment or vessel while under the influence of marijuana.”  But the Supreme Court’s opinion holds that the LAD prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for using prescribed medical marijuana outside of work.

For more information about the case, please see my previous article:  New Jersey Employers Can’t Discriminate for Medical Marijuana Use Outside of Work.

Rumored affair can be sexual harassment in New JerseyA recent opinion by New Jersey’s Appellate Division recognizes that false rumors of a sexual relationship between a female employee and a male superior can create a legally actionable hostile work environment.

Jennifer Schiavone is a senior corrections officer for the New Jersey Department of Corrections (“DOC”).  In 2013, the DOC assigned Officer Schiavone to work in the Central Control Unit (“Central Control”), which is a desirable job because it does not involve direct contact with inmates.

Shortly after the DOC transferred Officer Schiavone to Central Control, rumors began to spread that she was having an extra-marital affair with a high-level DOC official, “S.D.”  Even though Officer Schiavone denied that she was having an affair with S.D., their supposed relationship became the subject of nearly daily conversation at work.  For example, on one occasion Officer Julie Houseworth asked Officer Schiavone if she planned to “blow” S.D.  Another time, Lieutenant Zsuzsanna Rogoshewski said: “That’s her over there, that’s who’s sleeping with the [high-ranking official],” referring to Officer Schiavone and S.D.

Today, New Jersey passed new law impoving wage and hour law protectionsNew Jersey’s Acting Governor Sheila Oliver signed an amendment to New Jersey’s  wage and hour laws that makes several extremely important improvements.

The amendment impacts several New Jersey laws, most importantly the Wage & Hour Law (“WHL”) and the Wage Payment Act (“WPA”).  The WHL is a statute that requires employers to pay employees who do not fall within an exemption minimum wage (currently $10 per hour) and time-and-half when they work more than 40 hours in any particular workweek.  The WPA is a law that requires employers to pay employees on time, and typically at least twice per month.

The amendment includes numerous new provisions, all of which go into effect immediately.  We have summarized some of the most significant changes below:

Workplace bullying can violate employee handbookUnder New Jersey law it is unlawful for an employer to harass an employee because she belongs to a legally-protected category, such as because of her gender, age, race or disability.  But the law does not necessarily prohibit a boss from bullying or indiscriminately harassing other employees.

Nonetheless, earlier this year, in Maselli v. Valley National Bankcorp., New Jersey’s Appellate Division recognized that under certain circumstances an employee can sue her employer for bullying in violation of a company’s anti-harassment policy.

By way of background, almost 25 years ago the New Jersey Supreme Court established that employee handbooks and other similar policies are presumed to be binding contracts.  However, the Court created an exception for policies that include prominent disclaimers that make it clear they document is not an enforceable contract.  As a result, most employee handbooks now include bold disclaimers stating that they are not contracts.

New Sick Leave Requirements

Earlier this month, Governor Phil Murphy signed an important new employment law that requires employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.  Specifically, New Jersey’s new paid sick leave law requires employers to provide most employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work.  Employers must permit employees to use this earned sick leave for:

  1. New Jersey Enacts Strong Paid Sick Leave LawThe employee’s diagnosis, care, treatment, or recovery from a mental or physical illness or injury, or preventive medical care;

Earlier this week, the New Jersey Supreme Court clarified how to determine whether an employer fired an employee because of a disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

Nurse wins appeal in disability discrimination caseMaryanne Grande, RN, worked for Saint Clare’s Health System for approximately 10 years.  During that time she suffered four separate work-related injuries that required her to take significant time off and led to additional periods during which she only could work light duty.

In February 2010, while moving an obese patient from a stretcher to a bed, Ms. Grande had to grab the patient to prevent him from falling.  She injured her cervical spine and needed surgery which required over four months of recovery and rehabilitation.  When she finally returned to work she had to work light duty for several weeks.

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employee cannot establish a retaliation claim under the Family & Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) if his employer honestly believed he abused his right to take time off under the FMLA.

Employer's Mistaken Belief Defeats FMLA Retaliation ClaimFrederick Capps worked as a mixer for Mondelez Global, LLC.  Mr. Capps suffers from Avascular Necrosis, a condition involving a “loss of blood flow, severely limiting oxygen and nutrient delivery to the bone and tissues, essentially  suffocating and causing death of those cells.”  As a result, Mr. Capps has arthritis in both hips and had double hip replacement surgery in 2004.  He also periodically experiences severe pain that can last for weeks.  Accordingly, he requested and Mondelez granted him an intermittent FMLA leave, meaning he could take time off when it was medically necessary.

On February 14, 2013, while he was on an FMLA leave, Mr. Capps went to a local pub for dinner and drinks.  On his way home, he was arrested for drunk driving.  He was released from jail the next morning, Friday, February 15, and took that day off as FMLA leave.  He returned to work on Monday, February 18.

A recent published opinion from the New Jersey Appellate Division recognizes that although the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ sincerely held religious belief, that requirement does not apply when the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Camden County Correctional FacilityLinda Tisby began working for the Camden County Correctional Facility (“Camden”) in 2002.  In 2015, she began practicing the Sunni Muslim faith.  In May 2015, she came to work wearing a Muslim khimar, which is a tight fitting head covering, but without a veil.  However, Camden has a policy regarding uniforms which prohibits employees from wearing any hats other than the ones issued by their departments.  Accordingly, Ms. Tisby’s supervisor told her she was violating Camden’s uniform policy, and could not work unless she removed her khimar.  When Ms. Tisby refused, her supervisor sent her home.  After this happened three more times, Camden suspended her for two days.

Camden then told Ms. Tisby that it considered her to have requested an accommodation for her religious belief pursuant to the LAD.  But while the employer recognized Ms. Tisby had a sincerely held religious belief, it denied her request on the basis that it would “constitute an undue hardship to the Department to allow an officer to wear head-coverings or other non-uniform clothing.”  Since Ms. Tisby refused to work without wearing her khimar, Camden fired her.

According to a recent report in the New Jersey Law Journal, New Jersey State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora is planning to propose legislation to improve paid family leave benefits.

New Jersey employees entitled to paid family leavesThe New Jersey Paid Family Leave Act, which was passed in 2009, permits eligible employees to take up to 6 weeks of paid family leave per year.  Employees who take family leave receive up to two-thirds of their compensation, with a maximum benefit of $615 per week.

Assemblyman Gusciora is seeking to add protection against retaliation for employees who take time off under the Paid Family Leave Act.  Although there are many other statutes that protect employees against retaliation under certain circumstances, currently there is no such protection in the Act.