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The federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654 and New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) N.J.S.A. 34:11B-1 et. seq. permits employees to take 12 weeks of protected unpaid leave when they or their immediate family suffer a serious medical condition or for a new born child. This allows the employee to cope and recuperate from such circumstances. Relatedly, an employer cannot punish an employee for taking FMLA or NJFLA leave. Indeed, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit recently ruled that an employee can use his medical leave time off as vacation time, and cannot be fired for doing so, so long as taking such time off does not directly violate an express company policy. In Jones v. Gulf Coast Health Care of Delaware, LLC, 854 F.3d 1261 (11thCir. 2017), the 11th Circuit remanded to the district court to decide whether an employer had subjected his employee to unlawful retaliation by firing him when he did not use his time off within the “spirit” of medical leave – to rehabilitate and recover – and instead vacationed.

In Jones, the employer, Accentia, granted plaintiff Rodney Jones (“Jones”), their Activities Director, 12 weeks of FMLA leave so that he could undergo rotator cuff surgery and fully recover. However, when Jones was scheduled to return, his doctor reported that Jones could not resume physical activity until February 1, 2015. Despite his doctor’s recommendations and his own physical limitations, Jones still wished to return to his job at the end of his FMLA leave. Jones understood his doctor’s report to simply mean that he needed to continue physical therapy, not that he was prohibited from working entirely. Therefore, he asked his supervisor to allow him to return to work on light duty. His requested was denied. In fact, Jones was told he would not be permitted to return to work unless he underwent and passed a fitness-for-duty exam. Because his supervisor was adamant that Jones could not return to work on light duty, Jones did not ask his doctor for a light-duty certification. Jones instead requested additional time off and was granted another 30 days of non-FMLA medical leave to complete his physical therapy.

During the additional leave time, Jones twice visited the Busch Gardens theme park in Tampa Bay, Florida where he spent time walking around and taking pictures of the park’s Christmas decorations. Jones also visited his family in the Caribbean for three days. He posted photos from these trips on his Facebook page, including pictures of himself on the beach, posing by a boat wreck, and in the ocean. When Jones returned to work, his supervisor confronted him with the vacation photos and informed him that “corporate” believed, based on these Facebook posts, Jones had been well enough to return to work without additional leave. Hence, Jones was suspended, and then his employment terminated following an investigation by the company.

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Many professions require a person to be licensed before they can work in their chosen field such as medicine, nursing, law, dentistry, teaching, accounting, pharmacy, psychology, engineering, and architecture, to name a few. Many, if not all, of these professions require the practitioner to adhere to a professional code of ethics or code of responsibility. Recently, in a case entitled Steven Trzaska v. L’Oreal USA, Inc., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 13381 (decided July 25, 2017), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit concluded that an employer who subjects an employee who is a licensed professional to workplace retaliation for refusing to violate a code of professional conduct violates New Jersey’s whistleblowing law, i.e., New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).

Steven Trzaska worked as a supervising patent attorney for L’Oréal USA, Inc. (L’Oréal).  His team’s job was in part to file patent applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The patent team he was assigned had to satisfy an annual 40 patent application filing quota.  Management officials at L’Oréal told Trzaska and his team members that if they failed to meet the quota, “there would be consequences which would negatively impact their careers and/or continued employment.”  Notwithstanding management’s threat, the patent team did not believe it was able to meet the mandatory quota without filing frivolous patent applications.As a licensed attorney required to follow professional rules of conduct and the rules of the USPTO, Mr. Trzaska made it known to L’Oréalmanagementthat neither he nor his team would file patent applications they in good faith believed were not patentable.  This meant the patent quota was not attainable.  After Mr. Trzaska’s views become known to L’Oréal management, they presented him with two severance packages requiring him to leave the company.  When Mr. Trzaska refused to accept these severance offers, he was fired.  Thereafter, Mr. Trzaska filed a lawsuit against L’Oreal alleging he was fired in violation of CEPA. The United States District Court dismissed Mr. Trzaska’s lawsuit finding that he did not engage in the conduct protected under CEPA.  Mr. Trzaska appealed the dismissal of his case to the Third Court.

CEPA protects employees who blow the whistle by, among others, disclosing to a supervisor “an activity, policy or practice of the employer . . . that the employee reasonably believes . . . is in violation of a law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law,” N.J.S.A. 34:19-3(a)(1), or by objecting to or refusing to participate “in any activity, policy or practice which the employee reasonably believes . . . is in violation of a law . . . .,” or  by objecting to or refusing to participate in any activity, policy or practice which “is incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning the public health, safety or welfare . . . .” N.J.S.A. 34:19-3(c)(1) and (3).  A plaintiff who pursues a CEPA claim need not show that his or her employer or another employee actually violated the law or a clear mandate of public policy.  Dzwonar v. McDevitt, 177 N.J. 451, 462 (2003).  Instead, the plaintiff simply must show that he “reasonably believes” that to be the case. Id.  This is because the goal of CEPA, is “not to make lawyers out of conscientious employees but rather to prevent retaliation against those employees who object to employer conduct that they reasonably believe to be unlawful or indisputably dangerous to the public health, safety or welfare.” Mehlman v. Mobil Oil Corp., 153 N.J. 163, 193-94 (1998).

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It can generally be said that before you can recover money for an injury someone else needs to be found at fault for causing the injury. However, when you suffer an injury at work, the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, requires employers to “insure” workers, regardless of fault, by providing eligible employees with authorized medical treatment, temporary disability payments, and permanent partial disability payments for job-related injuries or illnesses.  In exchange for these non-fault related benefits, employees are subject to a workers compensation bar preventing them from being able to sue their employer in court for economic loss and  “pain and suffering” damages caused by work related injuries.  Millison v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 101 N.J. 161 (1985). However, if an employer intentionally causes an employee’s injury, then the employee may be able to their employer in court for all common law personal injury damages. See N.J.S.A. 34:15-8. (Finding that “a person shall not be liable . . . except for intentional wrong.”)

In Laidlow v. Hariton Machinery Co. Inc., 170 N.J. 602 (2002), the New Jersey Supreme Court explained that certain circumstances can exist which would result in an injury being deemed intentionally caused even though the employer did not directly intend to harm the employee. Id.  Laidlow laid down a two-pronged test where the employer is held liable as if it intended the injury to occur. Id. at 617. First, based on the circumstances there must be a substantial certainty that injury will occur, and second, the circumstances resulting in this injury cannot be standard industry practice. Id.

The burden to demonstrate a “Laidlow claim” can be a difficult one to achieve given the need of the employee to show that the circumstances surrounding the injury were beyond the everyday risks of the job, or that performing the job  in the manner required by the employer would almost certainly result in injury. For example, in Van Dunk v. Reckson Associates Realty Corp., et al., 2012 N.J. LEXIS 678 (decided June 26, 2012) and recently in Madkiff v. Frazier-Simplex, Inc., No. A-1328-15T1, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 419, at *1 (App. Div., decided Feb. 23, 2017) the courts found that even though the respective supervisors of these plaintiffs knowingly allowed the employees to place themselves in a potentially harmful situation, the workers compensation bar could not be overcome because it was not proven that it was virtually certain an injury would occur to the plaintiffs under the circumstances presented.

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The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) prohibit employers from discriminating against people because of their age. This includes a list of forbidden practices such as considering age when hiring and firing, compensation, assignment, transfer, promotion, use of company facilities, training, fringe benefits, pay, retirement plans, and disability leave, to name a few. While generally an employer cannot directly deny someone an opportunity to apply for a job because of their age – under the ADEA someone age 40 or over & under the NJLAD ages 18-70 (w/some exceptions) – it is currently unclear whether recruitment practices which discriminate against older applicants and deny them an equal opportunity to apply for jobs which they are well qualified are prohibited by the ADEA and the NJLAD.

The ADEA protections can be understood in two ways: Either, only “employees” are protected and anyone who is not a current employee does not have ADEA protection; or, “any individual” who is discriminated against by an employer based on their age is protected (even if they are not yet an employee). Initially, the Fourth Circuit in Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 839 F3d 958, 961 (11th Cir. 2016) upheld the district court’s dismissal of an ADEA suit claiming that Villareal was unfairly discriminated against by R.J. Reynolds and that his fully qualified job application was dismissed because R.J. Reynolds was looking for younger recruits only. Id. R.J. Reynolds had issued hiring guidelines “describing their ‘targeted candidate’ as someone ‘2-3 years out of college’ who ‘adjusts easily to change’” and “‘to stay away from’ applicants ‘in sales 8-10 years.’” Id. The court justified dismissing the claim because it construed the ADEA language (section 4(a)(2)) to protect only current employees from discrimination and not job applicants. Id. at 963. However, the dissent disagreed pointing out that the ADEA protects “any individual” from age discrimination and not just employees.

In February 2017, the Northern District Courtof California in Rabin v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, No. 16-cv-02276-JST, 2017 U.S. Dist. Lexis 23224 at *1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 17, 2017) permitted an ADEA disparate-impact claim to proceed. Building on the Villareal dissent, the court in Rabin held that the ADEA protected “any individual” not just current employees, and therefore, practices which disparately impact people based on age are prohibited by the ADEA even if they are not yet employed. Id. at *17.

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There are many religions and religious beliefs. There’s Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Bahá’í Faith, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Slavic neopaganism, Celtic polytheism, Heathenism (German paganism), Semitic neopaganism, Wicca, Kemetism (Egyptian paganism), Hellenism, Italo-Roman neopaganism to name a few. Whatever your sincerely held religious belief is, if any, federal and state law protects your right to observe those beliefs. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et al 2012 (“Title VII”); N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et. seq., the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). In fact, an employer may be required to reasonably accommodate your religious belief so long as to do so does not cause the employer or co-workers an undue hardship.

Protected religious beliefs are based on an employee’s sincerely held belief. It does not matter whether the employee has a relatable or probable belief. Rather, if the employee indisputably has a sincere religious belief, the employee is entitled to receive a reasonable accommodation from their employer regardless of whether the employer likes or agrees with that belief.  The case of United States EEOC v. Consol Energy Inc., Nos. 16-1230, 16-1406, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 10385, at*1 (4th Cir. June 12, 2017), while somewhat factually unusual, underscores how important it is for an employer to focus on whether a requested accommodation is reasonable, and not whether the employee’s religious belief is reasonable. There, the Fourth Circuit held that so long as the employee has a legitimate religious belief, regardless how farfetched, they are entitled to be reasonably accommodated.

In United States EEOC v. Consol Energy Inc., the Fourth Circuit affirmed a $586,000 award to Beverly R. Butcher (“Butcher”) because his employer violated his religious rights under Title VII. Id. Butcher, a lifelong Evangelical Christian, worked for Robinson Rue Mines (owned by Consol Energy Inc. “Consol”) for 37 years without incident. Id. When Consol decided to use biometric scanners as a method of tracking timesheets Butcher protested. Butcher explained that as a devout Christian he believed using a biometric scanner to clock in and out of his job would mark him as a follower of the Antichrist, subjecting him to an eternity of fire and brimstone. Id. at *6. Consol chose to debate the legitimacy of these beliefs with Butcher and even presented him a letter explaining how the scanner leaves no physical marks and that Butcher’s understanding of the scriptures was incorrect.  Butcher persisted and a lawsuit was filed.

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People get aches and pains all the time. Your back hurts, your stomach is upset, or you are coughing and congested from a bad cold. Generally, that’s what sick days are for. And then there are times when someone sustains an injury or illness that temporarily prevents them from physically, mentally,or emotionally doing their job. In such instances, under the federal American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the New Jersey Law against Discrimination (“LAD”), an employee is entitled to be reasonably accommodated by their employer. Under the LAD and ADA employees are even entitled to be accommodated for temporary disabilities. Temporary conditions that meet the definition of disability may be covered by the LAD and ADA. See, Failla v. City of Passaic, 146 F.3d 149 (3d Cir. 1998); Clowes v. Terminix Int’l, Inc., 109 N.J. 575 (1988); Enriquez v. West Jersey Health Systems, 342 N.J. Super. 501, 519 (App. Div. 2001) (observing that LAD “is very broad and does not require that a disability restrict any major life activities to any degree”); see also, Summers vs. Altarum Institute Corp., No. 13-1645 (4th Cir. January 23, 2014), (ruling that a temporary and severe impairment does in fact qualify as a disability under the ADA, thus, persons with temporary and severe impairments are protected by the ADA)

For an employee to be entitled to a reasonable accommodation for a disability, the ADA and LAD requires the injured or disabled employee can perform the essential functions of their job with or without an accommodation.  Put differently, an employer is not required to accommodate an employee who cannot perform his or her essential job functions even with an accommodation. Hennessey v. Winslow Township, 368 N.J. Super. 443, 452 (App. Div. 2004), aff’d, 183 N.J. 593 (2005). What constitutes an “essential function” is a very fact specific question. For example, if the essential functions of a job require heavy lifting and the employee can no longer lift heavy objects, the employer does not have to accommodate the employee.Furthermore, the ADA and LAD require an employer to reasonably accommodate a temporarily disabled employee by offering the employee, if available, the opportunity to fill a preexisting light duty position; in doing so the employee is helped to transition back to their original job.

In a landmark case, the United States Supreme Court in Young v. UPS ruled that under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) (where under federal law pregnancy is not inherently a disability) an employer must accommodate a pregnant employee with accommodations the employer gives to other workers who are similarly disabled. There, a pregnant Ms. Young was ordered by her doctor not to lift objects weighing more than 20 pounds. UPS refused to accommodate Young and move her to an available “light duty” job. Instead, UPS required Ms. Young to use up her vacation days, and when those ran out, to take an extended unpaid leave of absence. The Supreme Court found that if other similarly disabled UPS workers with lifting restrictions were being accommodated by the giving of light duty assignments,so too was Ms. Young entitled to the same light duty accommodation from UPS.

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Expressing ourselves through social media is the norm. Whether it’s a wacky, funny selfie with dog ears on Snapchat, or posting a snarky comment on Facebook; it is a way to express ourselves. However, it is also a quick way for employers to find out about what their employees are thinking and saying.

As a citizen of the United States you have a First Amendment right to freely express a controversial opinion or inflammatory statement in in a public forum. While the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights protects free speech, this protection only extends to government employees. As far as private employees’ job security is concerned, they do not enjoy similar carte blanche freedom to say whatever they want with impunity, i.e., without being disciplined. This is because New Jersey is an “employment at will” state. This means a private employer can decide to fire an employee for no good reason at all, so long as this decision does not violate the law. For instance, an employee of a private company who criticizes their boss or a customer may be fired for doing so.

In our electronically interconnected viral world, comments typed onto an iPad may impact your job security. Publicly accessible internet posts blur the boundaries between personal and work life, and all that matters are whether a comment, post, tweet, or picture offends your employer. Accordingly, you must be aware that what you post or tweet may set in motion the loss of your job. However, when employees discuss legally protected topics such as discrimination, they can by and large be protected from adverse employment action.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) protects physically and mentally disabled employees from discrimination.  An employer cannot discriminate in their job applications, hiring, firing, training, pay, promotion, benefits, or leave against a disabled employee. Furthermore, an employer may not harass or retaliate against an employee who has a disability. Most critically, employers must provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations at work.

When bringing disability claims, the LAD is more inclusive than the ADA. While the ADA does not include pregnancy itself as a disability and only a medical condition or complication due to pregnancy is considered a disability; the LAD includes even pregnancy itself as a disability. Also, the ADA does not protect an employee from an employer who is a private club while the LAD has no such limitation. 42 U.S.C. § 12111 (5)(B)(ii); N.J.S.A. 10:5-5(e).

The ADA and LAD protect employees whose disabilities substantially affect their major life activities. Such activities include hearing, seeing, speaking, thinking, walking, breathing, or performing manual tasks. Further, long-term disabilities/illnesses, such as cancer or diabetes, are still protected even though they are not permanent. However, if a disability is clearly short-term, for instance a cold or a sprain, it is generally not a “disability” which is protected. Finally, an employee’s disability does not need to be constant. Rather, disabilities which cause flair ups, such as chrome’s disease or cancer that is in remission, are also protected.

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The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (“NJWHL”) protect the wages of New Jersey’s hourly workers. They do this by requiring employers to compensate hourly wage employees for each hour worked at a minimum wage rate (in New Jersey the minimum wage rate in 2017 is $8.44/hour), and to pay overtime wages at 1.5 times an employee’s regular hourly rate for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. This means that an employee is not permitted to work any time “off the clock” without pay even if the employee does so willingly.

Any time an employee is working for the employer he or she is required to be paid even when the employer did not ask the employee to work that time. For example, if the employer asks an employee to do a job and it takes the employee an extra hour to finish the job properly, the employee is entitled to overtime pay for that hour – even if the employer has a policy forbidding overtime pay. And if that hour means that employee has worked 41 hours in the workweek, the employee is entitled to 1.5 times her regular hourly rate for working that extra hour even if the employer has a policy forbidding overtime.

If an employee’s job requires him or her to wait around for an assignment, they must be paid for that time spent waiting. Indeed, even if the job is not to wait but merely to be “on call,” the time the employee is on call is to be considered work time warranting compensation. For example, if a job requires an employee to be available to respond to a security call, the time spent being on call must be compensated by the employer and can be calculated as part of work.

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Mashel Law, L.L.C. filed a nationwide collective class action against Trans World Entertainment Corp., Record Town, Inc. and Record Towns USA, LLC (collectively referred to herein as “Trans World”) on behalf of its client Carol Spack and all similarly situated current and former employees of the Trans World to recover for the Defendants’ willful violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law N.J.S.A., 34:11-56.1 to -56.12 (“NJWHL”) and Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage Act 35 P.S. § 333.101 et seq. (“PMWA”).  Trans World Entertainment Corp. is a chain of entertainment media retail stores in the United States operating just over 300 freestanding and shopping mall-based stores. Trans World united its mall-based portfolio and retail Web site under the F.Y.E. (For Your Entertainment) brand name. In October 2016, the company acquired etailz, Inc., a leading digital marketplace expert retailer.  Trans World Entertainment Corp reported total revenue of $147.1 million for Fourth Quarter 2016.

Under the collective action brought under FLSA, the proposed Class consists of all persons employed by the Trans World as Store Managers or Sr. Assistant Managers at any time three years prior to the filing of this action through the entry of judgment who worked over 40 hours per week and were not paid overtime pay at a rate of one and one-half times their regular rate for hours worked in excess of 40 hours during a workweek (the “Nationwide Collective Class”). The complaint also asserts pendent state claims for violations of New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Laws and Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage Act.

Specifically, as to Sr. Assistant Managers, Plaintiff also complains Trans World violated FLSA by using a fluctuating work week method (FWW) when calculating overtime wages rightfully due Plaintiff and all other members of the proposed Nationwide Collective Class when they worked as Sr. Assistant Managers at Trans World stores nationwide.  Under federal law, FWW provides under certain conditions for the payment of an unchanging salary that compensates an employee for all hours worked in a week regardless of whether the employee works fewer or greater than 40 hours a week, and payment for overtime hours at a rate of one-half employee’s regular rate of pay. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a).