Your company is sponsoring a political fundraising luncheon for Donald Trump during work hours and makes clear your attendance is expected. Must you attend? How about if your boss insists that all members of the IT team he heads, and to which you are a member, must attend and participate in a prayer breakfast meeting where the pastor from his church will be speaking. If you refuse to go, are you protected your boss suffer retaliate against you later? The answer to these questions are found in the New Jersey Worker Freedom from Employer Intimidation Act (“the Act”).
The Act, which was signed into law in 2006, forbids employers from requiring employees to attend any employer-sponsored meetings or participate in any communications with an employer and the employer’s agents or representatives where the purpose of the get-together is to hear about the employer’s opinion(s) about religious or political matters. The Act specifically prohibits an employer and its agents and representatives from discharging, disciplining or otherwise penalizing any employee because the employee in good faith reports a violation or suspected violation of the Act.
Any employee who suffers retaliation in violation of the Act may bring a private civil action against the offending employer and its cohorts. The remedies under the Act include:
- Entry of a restraining order against any continuing violations;
- The reinstatement of the employee to the employee’s former position or an equivalent position and the reestablishment of any employee benefits and seniority rights;
- The payment of last wages, benefits or other remuneration;
- The payments of reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs for bringing suit; and
- Punitive damages not greater than treble damages, or an assessment of a civil fine of not more than $1,000 for a first violation of the Act and not more than $5,000 for each subsequent violation paid directly to the State Treasurer.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, nothing in the Act shall prohibit:
- A religious organization from requiring employees to attend an employer-sponsored meeting or participate in communications the purpose of which is to communicate the employer’s religious beliefs;
- A political organization from requiring employees to attend an employer-sponsored meeting or participate in communications the purpose of which is to communicate the employer’s political beliefs;
- An educational institution from requiring a student or instructor to attend lectures on political or religious matters that are part of the regular course work at the institution.
All potential claimants are cautioned that the Act has a very limited ninety (90) days statute of limitations. This means that in order to avoid running afoul of this very short statute of limitations an employee who suffers retaliation in violation of this Act must commence a lawsuit no later than 90 days from the date the retaliatory adverse employment action occurred Additionally, an employee who suffers retaliation may, if the underlying facts permit, still be able to bring a whistleblowing claim under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (1 year statute of limitations) or religious discrimination under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (2 year statute of limitations), or other similar legal claims.
If you believe you been or are presently being coerced by your employer into attending a religious or political meeting, or have been retaliated for having refused to attend such a function, don’t hesitate to call the lawyers at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 for help or fill out the contact form on this page.