What Should Workers Know About Employment Law in New Jersey?
Employment law is an important aspect of the business world that must be taken seriously by employers and employees. Employees need to know that they have legal recourse when they have been treated inappropriately at work. Employee contracts may need to be reviewed before they are signed, wages may be incorrect, or whistleblowers may need support because they are afraid of speaking up.
The Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. work with clients every day who have experienced problems at work. We can help employees who need to review new contracts, need to report improper activity, or believe that they have been wrongfully terminated from their position. We work with clients who are simply not sure what to do because they do not have experience with employment law. Fortunately, we have the expertise to help them.
Although workers might move on to other positions, they deserve to protect their rights when leaving an old job. Some employees may keep their jobs while filing claims against their employers over improper conduct, and we will review each case carefully before proceeding. Workers deserve a voice and a support system. Our lawyers provide that support every day.
Does the Firm Create or Review Employment Contracts?
Employee contracts have several parts, and many times, employees do not understand some of the more complex provisions. These contracts include several different sections such as the following:
Salary: The salary for the position must be laid out clearly and the work hours for the job must be posted. Although employees might respond to emails or phone calls on the weekends, a contract should explain that workers are technically not working on the weekend. If the contract states that employees should be available on the weekends, the work environment changes.
The salary might also include specific incentives that are designed by the company to improve performance. Bonuses can increase total pay over the course of the year. For most contracts, the total value of the contract is listed. Therefore, someone who has a salary of $100,000 and potential incentives of $50,000 has a total contract value of $150,000. We will make sure that these numbers make sense when reading the contract.
Benefits: The benefits of the job must be explained so that it is clear what the employee receives in addition to salary. This list can include bonuses, insurance, retirement benefits, and many other things, such as vehicles, cell phones, and electronics. All benefits need to be listed so that it is clear what the company will provide. If the company is comping parking fees for the worker, those fees need to be explained in the contract. If the company offers payment for cell phones or Wi-Fi, those numbers need to be included in the contract. If the provision is not written in the contract, it is as if the employee never agreed to it.
Grounds for termination: This must be carefully explained because the business might have specific reasons for firing employees. These grounds cannot be unlawful, and we can review any employment contract to ensure that it is not written improperly. We are happy to represent anyone who needs help negotiating a contract that might include confusing language.
At-will clauses: These are often included in contracts in New Jersey because it is an at-will employment state. Adding at-will clauses is a considerate thing to remind workers of their rights, but it is not necessarily required. This is not a scare tactic. This clause merely helps the employee understand that they have a right to leave just as much as the employer has a right to terminate them within the bounds of the law.
Job description: This should be included so that the employee knows what is expected of them. When the contract is breached, it can be easy to prove that the worker was forced to work outside their contract without proper compensation. Job descriptions should be detailed, listing every task for which the employee is responsible. We can easily refer to the contract if the worker believes they are no longer allowed to do their job or must do someone else’s work.
Leave or sabbatical options: These should be included to advise the worker of their rights. When this is the case, those options must be spelled out so that workers know how long they can be away with or without pay, and if the company will pay for any expenses. The company might also offer better personal leave than is offered through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If that is the case, the company needs to put that in writing.
Dispute resolution and privacy clause: These clauses are common. The employee can choose the type of dispute resolution they would like to use, and the company can also ask the employee to sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect its interests. Non-compete clauses and non-disparagement clauses might be added to protect the business, and an intellectual property clause might be added to show who owns anything that was created by the employee during work hours. The language of each clause needs to be reviewed carefully to avoid any issues.
We can review an employee contract and will help negotiate the contract if possible. In most cases, we can provide clients with peace of mind or help them omit unlawful or improper clauses in a contract before they sign. If it turns out that the contract is unfair or illegally executed, we can file a claim against the employer after the fact.
What is the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination?
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits discrimination in all its forms. New Jersey has been clear and forward-thinking about how discrimination and employment law should be addressed. This law prohibits discrimination based on the following:
- National origin
- Gender identity
- Familial status
- Marriage status
- Cohabitation status
- Sexual orientation
- Blood traits
- Genetic information
- Military service or status
- Mental disability
- Physical disability
We recommend that clients reach out to us as soon as possible to discuss their options if they believe they experienced discrimination.
What Should Clients Do About Discrimination?
Employment discrimination can take on several forms, as mentioned above. Disability discrimination could be something as simple as a lack of reasonable accommodations; age discrimination often includes a release of older employees in favor of younger, cheaper labor. Employees often believe the environment in the office is tense because of their personal traits or beliefs. It is impossible to prove that discrimination is occurring based on a feeling, but employees should not be afraid to act on their instincts. Our lawyers will help clients review their cases, hunt for evidence, and create a compelling claim.
Unfortunately, some situations are unfair but do not rise to the level of discrimination. We will be completely honest with each client and exhaust all our options when investigating each new claim. Someone who believes they have not been hired or promoted as a result of discrimination can reach out to us for help. We are especially adept at helping with the following issues:
Pregnancy discrimination: This type of discrimination can be widespread across an office. We want our clients to understand that discriminating based on pregnancy can be complicated given the motivations of the employer. The examples listed below will make this type of discrimination easier to understand and recognize:
- Pregnant women can experience discrimination because their pregnancy might involve accommodations to keep them comfortable. Moreover, pregnant women can experience discrimination if they are not feeling well, if they will miss work before the baby is born, and even if they take their lawful maternity leave. Pregnant women can also experience discrimination when they come back to work because they now must raise a child and supposedly will not focus on their work. This type of discrimination can become even more sinister if it is implied that the woman will have another child and further inconvenience the company.
- Women can be discriminated against simply because they could become pregnant at any time. A woman might not be hired because she is engaged, and the employer thinks she will become pregnant soon. A woman might not receive a promotion because she is married and plans to become pregnant. Even if the woman has expressly said she does not want to have children, some employers could hold back these employees or refuse employment because pregnancy could possibly occur in the future.
- Men can also be discriminated against for pregnancy. When a man gets married, their superiors might assume his wife will become pregnant. The man may take paternity leave, lose focus, and not want to work as hard as before. This also means that the man might not be available at a moment’s notice, and the employer might refuse promotions or pay raises.
We believe that pregnancy discrimination is a serious issue, and we want anyone who suspects pregnancy discrimination to reach out to us promptly.
Wrongful termination. New Jersey is an at-will employment state. This means that employees can leave their job at any time and the employer can fire them at any time. However, retaliation, discrimination, or underhanded firings are not allowed. Some examples are as follows:
- An employee cannot be fired for blowing the whistle on illegal behavior.
- An employee cannot be fired for filing a Workers’ Compensation claim.
- An employee cannot be fired for getting pregnant or taking leave under the law.
- Employees cannot be fired because of their gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, or the identity of their spouse or relatives.
As noted, New Jersey is an at-will employment state, but illegal firings should not be tolerated. When an employee believes that they have been wrongfully terminated, an employment lawyer can take over the case.
What is the FMLA?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take leave from their jobs for personal or family medical issues. Insurance coverage continues during this time, but the employee is not paid. The employee, however, can come back to their job because their employer cannot fire them or hire someone else during FMLA leave. Conditions that allow for FMLA leave include the following:
- Adoption or placement of a child
- To care for a spouse or child with a major medical condition
- A major medical condition that makes it difficult for the employee to work
- Situations that arise because the employee’s spouse or child is a covered service member
For each of the conditions listed above, the employee is allowed 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period. This is important to remember because it is not an every-year policy. If the worker, for example, takes 12 weeks of leave at the end of one year, they cannot automatically take 12 more weeks when the new year begins. They must wait for their 12-month period to expire.
Workers are allowed 26 weeks of leave in one special circumstance: to care for an eligible service member who has been injured in the field. This service member can be the employee’s spouse, parent, child, or next of kin. This type of leave is called a military caregiver leave. When an employer does not classify employees properly or allow eligible FMLA leave, we can file a claim on behalf of the employee. If the leave has not yet been taken, we ask that concerned employees reach out to us so that we can intervene. We may be able to influence the employer before the leave is denied or a court case arises.
How Should Sexual Harassment Be Litigated?
Sexual harassment in the workplace creates what is known as a hostile work environment, which makes it difficult or impossible for the employee to remain productive. It is important to remember the following:
- Sexual harassment can happen to men and women.
- Sexual harassers can be men or women.
- Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by supervisors, company owners, managers, lateral employees, and even subordinates.
- Sexual harassment can make someone uncomfortable, even if they are not the target.
- Sexual harassment can seem harmless to everyone except the victim, but the victim’s feelings must be considered.
When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, the victim or an innocent bystander may feel uncomfortable, dread going to work, believe they need to quit, and experience psychological damage. Because sexual harassment can take on many forms, we want our clients to know what sexual harassment might look like:
- In most quid pro quo harassment cases, the harasser is trying to trade sexual favors for employment advancement, raises, and preferential treatment.
- Passive-aggressive comments about someone’s sexual activity or lack thereof.
- Comments about the victim’s appearance.
- Unwanted touching.
- Unwanted invasions of the victim’s personal space.
- Being cornered in a room or by a door.
- Harassment outside of work that might include inappropriate comments or actions at what should have been a working event or meal.
- Spreading rumors around the office about the victim’s appearance or sexual activity.
- Sending unwanted emails or text messages, including pictures of the victim or harasser in a compromising position.
Someone who witnesses this type of harassment on a regular basis can be just as upset as the victim. In fact, a witness might come forward before the victim says anything. Sexual harassment should be reported to human resources (HR) as soon as possible, and we should be contacted for assistance. Our lawyers will review the case and ensure that the company takes it seriously. HR departments and managers might try to resolve the matter quietly, but we will not let that happen.
Why File a Wages Claim?
Although some employees might have their wages listed in a contract, along with bonuses, hourly workers might have problems with their pay and overtime. We can help clients with wages claims when it appears the employee has not been paid for lawful overtime, not paid according to local laws, or had their wages withheld for some other reason.
There are overtime exemptions under the law for people such as executives and managers. Other exemptions include farm workers and taxi drivers. Unfortunately, employers might try to exploit these exemptions by classifying workers in ways that are contradictory to their workload or simply because the language can be made to look good on paper.
When a worker has issues with their wages or overtime, our lawyers will review the case immediately. These cases take time to sort out because the employee might have worked for a long period without receiving the proper pay. We also ask our clients to look out for the following:
- Pay differences based on obvious discrimination.
- Differences in overtime allowances between employees who perform the same jobs.
- Abuse of salaried workers who are not eligible for overtime.
Does the Firm Support Whistleblowers?
Whistleblowers stop companies from engaging in illegal activity, but these individuals often fear for their jobs and lives. When someone wants to come forward, they should approach us for help. We can shield our clients from the public as they go to the government with information that could potentially topple a massive business or industry. Whistleblowers are also entitled to finder’s fees in cases in which money was withheld from the government or potentially withheld from fraud victims. We can help negotiate payment of that finder’s fee, the amount of the fee, and how the government will continue to protect the whistleblower from future retribution.
How Should Employees Approach Severance?
A severance agreement is a contract between the employee and the employer when termination occurs. These packages can pay the employee when they leave, but the agreement might also restrict the employee’s rights. We can review these contracts for our clients, negotiate the proper amount of severance, and help remove any unlawful or unethical language.
A severance package is often much more than a check. When the employer wants to bar the employee from suing or bind them with a non-disclosure agreement, we need to know the reason. In some cases, it is not in the employee’s best interests to sign that type of severance agreement. We will negotiate the agreement with the employer and retain as many rights for the employee as possible, up to and including their right to the intellectual property they created while working for the company.
New Jersey Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Assist Employees and Employers with Work-Related Claims
Reach out to the Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. for assistance with any work-related claims. Families and employees can ask us for help when discrimination, harassment, or whistleblowing is involved. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.