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Good news for New Jersey workers!  New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy enacted amendments to the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, effective August 6, 2019, and New Jersey Family Leave Insurance (FLI), effective July 1, 2020, and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development recently offered extended benefits to unemployed workers.  Among other changes to the Wage and Hour Law, the recent legislation increases the statute of limitations from two years to six years and provides for liquidated damages up to 200% of the amount of wages lost.  The major amendments to New Jersey FLI are a doubling of the leave period from 6 weeks to 12 weeks and an increase in the benefit rate from 66 2/3% to 85% of a claimant’s average weekly wage.  Unemployment benefits have been extended from 26 to 46 weeks.

New Jersey Wage and Hour Law

  • Statute of Limitations: Employees now have six years, instead of two years, to bring a claim for unpaid minimum wages or unpaid overtime compensation. N.J.S.A., 34:11-56a25.1.

One cannot fix what is not recognized to exist, nor fix

which is not understood to be broken.

Assimilation for Black Americans is near impossible. Skin color cannot be escaped and keeping quiet does not hide racial identity. The blackness of an African American’s skin makes their basic human and constitutional right to be treated with equanimity and fairness dependent on how white Americans choose to treat them, consciously or unconsciously.

By passing and signing into law the New Jersey Equal Pay Act (EPA), our state legislature and Governor Murphy made clear that unequal pay practices based on a person’s gender, race, national origin, disability or other protected class characteristic, for employees performing same or similar work, will not be tolerated in New Jersey. A powerful remedy found in the EPA allows an aggrieved employee to seek back pay damages for discriminatory pay practices going back 6-years!

The passage of the EPA meant that the statute of limitations for claims based on discriminatory pay was expanded from 2-years under the existing New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) to a period of 6-years. Specifically, this  look-back provision of the EPA found at  N.J.S.A. 10:5-12A, , states that, “…liability shall accrue and an aggrieved person may obtain relief for back pay for the entire period of time, except not more than six years, in which the violation with regard to discrimination in compensation or in the financial terms or conditions of employment has been continuous, if the violation continues to occur within the statute of limitations…” (emphasis added).

A plain reading of the EPA makes clear that a victimized employee is permitted to recover damages for 6-years of unequal pay so long as it is shown to the satisfaction of a court that the complained of unequal pay practices continued to take place one or more times after the EPA took effect on July 1, 2018. Despite the apparent clarity of the EPA, some employers sought to challenge this 6-year claw back period arguing that by giving effect to the 6-year statute of limitation as of its effective date would mean the law was being given a manifestly unfair retrospective application. Retrospective application of a new law or rule depends on whether there has been a departure from existing law. State v. G.E.P., 458 N.J. Super. 436, 444-445 (App. Div. 2019). If there is a departure from exiting a law, the new law or rule is only given prospective effect. Id.  A new rule or law exists if “‘it breaks new ground or imposes a new obligation ….  [or] if the result was not dictated by precedent existing at the time the defendant’s conviction became final.'” Id. quoting State v. Lark,  117 N.J. 331, 339 (1989) (quoting Teague v. Lane,  489 U.S. 288, 301 (1989)).

Neither the language of an employment agreement, nor the label an employer places on an employee, determines eligibility for unemployment benefits; rather, it is the substance of the business relationship which does. Law Office of Gerard C. Vince v. Bd. of Review, 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1846, (decided on September 4, 2019). In Vince, a law firm agreed to hire a “consulting paralegal” on a temporary basis to integrate their files onto a web-based computer software system. Id. at *2. The law firm identified which files it wanted integrated but never instructed the paralegal on how to do so; nor did it precisely determine when or where she would do so. Id. at *2-3. The paralegal was paid according to her chosen hourly rate based on the invoices she presented. To confirm their relationship, the law firm had the paralegal sign a Consulting Paralegal Understanding (CPU), stating that she was hired as “an independent contractor and as such are not an employee…subject to receive unemployment or other employee related benefits.” Id. at *3. However, when those services ended, she decided to file an unemployment benefits claim with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“DOL”) and was approved.

Generally, under New Jersey’s Unemployment Compensation Law (UCL), N.J.S.A. 43:21-1 to 24.30, employers are obligated to provide compensation benefits to eligible employees who have been terminated.  However, if an employer can show the individual was not an employee, but rather a consultant providing specific services, and if the employer can meet the three-part “ABC test” as outlined in N.J.S.A. 43:21-19(i)(6), unemployment benefits may be denied.  The ABC test requires the employer to demonstrate: (A) the individual retained has been and will continue to be free from the employer’s control or direction over the performance of such service; (B) the service performed is outside the usual course of services the business provides, or performed outside of the places where such services are performed; and (C) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established occupation. See Schomp v. Fuller Brush Co., 124 N.J.L. 487 (Sup. Ct.1940); and Hargrove v. Sleepy’s, LLC, 220 N.J. 289, 305 (2015).

Pointing to the CPU, the law firm in Vince contested the DOL’s determination that the consulting paralegal was eligible for benefits. Both the Appeal Tribunal (“Tribunal”) and the Board of Review (“Board”) upheld the Department’s decision, stating that the CPU’s language was “not determinative,” and the firm did not satisfy each part of the ABC test. Vince at *3. On appeal, however, the Appellate Division (“Division”) reversed the above rulings, not because of CPU’s terms, but because after analyzing the totality of the factual circumstances, it was clear both the Tribunal and Board “made certain findings that are not accurate,” and the law firm satisfied all three elements of the ABC test. Id. at *5.

Sometime in the 1750s Benjamin Franklin wrote lamenting the influx of non-Wasp immigrant settlers into colonial America, “Those who come hither are generally the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation.”  Mr. Franklin’s caustic commentary shows how the topic of immigration has always been a heated one in this country. Hence, it is not surprising how immigrants often work in fear of being harassed and disparately treated because of their residency or immigration status. Fortunately, there is protection here in New Jersey for immigrant workers under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).  LAD states that an employer cannot discriminate based on race, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital status, etc.  Under the LAD, discrimination based on immigration or citizenship status is treated differently than national origin discrimination because the discrimination is typically based on the employee’s immigration status rather than the country where they originated from.

Although the LAD does not specifically protect employees from discrimination based on immigration and/or residency status, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”) does. 8 U.S.C.A. § 1324. ICRA protects workers from discrimination based on their immigration and/or citizenship status. IRCA makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against its employees because of their citizenship, immigration or residency status in hiring, firing, and/or recruitment. Id.  IRCA also makes it unlawful for an employer to demand more or different documents that are legally acceptable for employment verification purposes. Similarly, an employer cannot refuse to accept documents that appear to be acceptable and are legally acceptable. Id. The IRCA further prohibits intimidation, threats, retaliation, or coercion against any employee who files charges. It also prohibits retaliation of those individuals who cooperate with an investigation, proceeding, or IRCA hearing. Id.

Individuals protected under the IRCA include citizens of the United States, permanent residents, lawful temporary residents, refugees, and asylees. However, the IRCA does not protect workers from discrimination and harassment who have unlawfully entered our country and/or are illegally employed in this country. In fact, the IRCA was the first federal law to deem it unlawful for employers to knowingly hire persons who are not authorized to work in the United States. It is also illegal under the IRCA to continue to employ an undocumented worker or one who has lost their authorization to work in this country. Consequently, the IRCA requires employers to verify each employee’s work eligibility and identity.

It’s a sad fact that many companies in our country discriminate against American workers in favor of cheaper foreign temporary labor. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor released a 2018 job report showing that while employment for foreign workers in the U.S. increased by 3%, employment for American workers increased a little less than 1.5%.  To combat this disturbing trend, on August 1, 2018, the United States Department of Justice joined forces with the Unites States’ Departments of Civil Rights Division and Labor to announce the agencies’ joint effort to target companies that exhibit “unlawful discrimination” against American workers by hiring foreign labor. These employers often hire cheap foreign labor through the H-1B, H-2B and L-1 visa programs. These visa programs are briefly described as follows:

  • H-1B visas are issued to foreign workers who can fill positions so “specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.” Foreign computer programmers serve as a common example of those who have been issued a H-1B visa.
  • H-2B visas allow U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs where there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work.  Examples of these may be persons filling housekeeping positions for companies operating in the travel and leisure industry.

New Jersey is a national leader and model for paid family leave legislation. For example, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the New Jersey’s paid family leave program. Ten years ago, New Jersey enacted the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) and became the second state in the country (after California) to offer family leave allowing workers to take off time to care for a newborn or sick relative while collecting a portion of their pay while on leave.

Family leave is becoming more important than ever as the baby boomer generation ages, and increasingly needs care and assistance from family members.  The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060.  See Population Reference Bureau Fact Sheet at  For all too many working families, taking time off from work to care for their ill family members is exceedingly stressful, costly and difficult.

Under the present law, New Jersey provides up to six (6) weeks of Family Leave Insurance (“FLI”) cash benefits and is 100% financed by worker payroll deductions.  Employers do not contribute to the program.  The benefits are available to allow for workers to bond with a newborn or adopted child, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition.  Claimants are paid two-third (2/3) of their average weekly wage, up to a maximum weekly benefit.  For workers seeking to bond with a newborn or adopted child, you must provide your employer with thirty (30) days’ notice.  To care for an ill family member, you must give your employer fifteen (15) days’ notice.

The Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) was designed to protect employees in New Jersey from discrimination in the workplace, including, but not limited to, disability discrimination. N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(a). The LAD also requires an employer to provide a disabled employee with a reasonable accommodation “unless the nature and extent of the disability reasonably precludes the performance of the particular employment.” N.J.S.A. 10:5-4.1. However, until recently, an employer could openly discriminate against an employee for using medical marijuana to treat a medical condition. See Cotto v. Ardagh Glass Packing, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135194 (D.N.J. August 10, 2018). In fact, New Jersey case law has said an employer is not required to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana to treat an illness. Id. This is because the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (“CUMMA”) specifically states “[n]othing” in the CUMMA “require[s] an employer to accommodate a medical marijuana user.” N.J.S.A. 24:6I-14.

Notably, CUMMA was enacted because the New Jersey Legislature determined “[m]odern medical research has discovered a beneficial use for marijuana in treating or alleviating the pain or other systems associated with certain debilitating medical conditions.” N.J.S.A. 24:6I-2(a). One of CUMMA’s professed purposes is “to protect from arrest, prosecution … and other penalties, those patients who use marijuana to alleviate suffering from debilitating medical conditions…” N.J.S.A. 24:6I-2(e).

In our blog article of January 11, 2019 entitled “Medical Marijuana Can Cost Workers Their Jobs, But Laws Are Coming To Correct This Wrong”, we discussed pending State Assembly Bill 1838 and State Senate Bill S10 which, if enacted, would prevent employers in New Jersey from firing an employee for using medical marijuana unless the employer was able to produce evidence showing that such use impaired the employee’s ability to perform their job in a safe and effective manner. Now, it appears state case law maybe moving in the same direction as this pending legislation. We state this because the New Jersey Appellate Division in Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., 2019 N.J. Super. LEXIS 37 (App. Div. March 27, 2019) recently held that the LAD prohibits disability discrimination, including discriminating against an employee who lawfully uses marijuana for medicinal purposes.

When enacting the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Legislature declared, “that practices of discrimination against any of its inhabitants…are matters of concern to the government of the State, and that such discrimination threatens not only the rights and proper privileges of the inhabitants of the State but menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic State.” N.J.S.A. 10:5-3. While there is no denying the public policy of eradicating discrimination in the workplace as embodied in the NJLAD is a laudable one, it begs the question as to what good such remedial laws provide us if the institutions of our free society, not to mention our very lives, are threatened by the unrestrained use of climate warming fossil fuels. The science on this point is indisputable, and our federal government has admitted as much in filings made in the Oregon federal court case of Juliana v. United States, 217 F. Supp. 3d. 1224 (D. Ct. Ore 2016). It is not an overreach to characterize Juliana as possibly the most monumental lawsuit of our time given it seeks to hold the U.S. Government legally accountable for its alleged complicity in permitting the fossil fuel industry to jeopardize our right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life.  It is for this existential reason that this employment law blog is devoting its space this week to an environment-based civil rights case, and the question of whether the Constitution guarantees a life-sustaining climate.

In Juliana, the Plaintiffs, a group of young people between the ages of eight and nineteen, an association of young environmental activists known as Earth Guardians, and Dr. James Hansen, acting as guardian for future generations, filed a civil rights case before the United States District Court in Oregon. They allege the federal government has known for more than 50 years that carbon dioxide pollution was causing catastrophic climate change, and that a nation-wide transition away from fossil fuels was needed to protect their substantive due process rights to life, liberty, and property.  By failing to act, the Plaintiffs claim the U.S. Government violated its obligation to hold certain natural resources in trust for the people of our country and for future generations.

The lawsuit argues that despite knowing the severe dangers posed by carbon pollution, the U.S. Government deliberately and recklessly allowed fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation and exportation, to escalate atmospheric C02 concentrations to levels unprecedented in human history. It is alleged our government’s policies and practices have destabilized the climate system in a way that presents a significant endangerment to plaintiffs, with the damage persisting for millennia. Although many different nations and entities contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, plaintiffs assert the U.S. Government bears “a higher degree of responsibility than any other individual, entity, or country” for exposing plaintiffs to the dangers of climate change.

In furtherance of its continuing effort to protect and promote fair wages for workers, the New Jersey Assembly Labor Committee recently approved two bills which would have that effect. The first bill A1094 was sponsored by Assemblypersons sponsored by Joann Downey, Pamela R. Lampitt, Gary S. Schaer, Eric Houghtaling, Daniel R. Benson and Wayne P. DeAngelo, seeks to minimize the wage gap between men and women in New Jersey by strengthening protections against employment discrimination and prohibiting any employer from: a)  screening a job applicant based on the applicant’s wage or salary history; or b) requiring that the applicant’s salary history satisfy any minimum or maximum criteria. The New Jersey Senate’s companion bill, S5559, passed the upper chamber in March 2018.

Under the bill, an employer still may consider salary history in determining salary, benefits and other compensation for the applicant.  Although the employer may also verify an applicant’s salary history, it may do so only if the applicant voluntarily and without coercion provides the employer with that history. Put differently, it will be unlawful for an employer to consider an applicant’s refusal to volunteer salary history information when making an employment decision.

“In an ideal world, your gender would not influence how much you earn at work. But that’s not the world we live in,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “This provides a means of narrowing the wage gap by making it less likely for employers to unintentionally perpetuate the gap by basing salary offers for new hires on their previous salary, which has a disproportionate impact on female hires.”

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