Employment issues are stressful, so understanding your rights is key to making sure you are not improperly treated by your employer. The following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about employment law in New Jersey.
What laws govern employment law in New Jersey?
Employment law is complex because it is governed by both federal and state law as well as local ordinances. Verbal and written agreements, as well as written company policies and other documents, may also be relevant if the issue involves a contract or an administrative issue. The New Jersey Civil Rights Act protects employees from discrimination. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act covers issues regarding overtime, minimum wage, and child labor.
It is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible if you believe that your rights have been violated because of the complex issues that can arise in any case involving employment law. It is also important to keep in mind that there are strict requirements regarding reporting, so it is important to act right away to make sure that your rights are protected.
What is the New Jersey Civil Rights Act?
The New Jersey Civil Rights Act protects employees from violations of laws regarding equal protection and due process and allows employees to sue certain employers who commit discriminatory acts, like the following:
- making inappropriate jokes,
- failing to hire workers for discriminatory reasons, and
- terminating or demoting employees for a discrimination-based reason.
The New Jersey Civil Rights Act was passed in 2004 and offers additional protection to employees than that which they were already afforded under the federal Civil Rights Act. Many state laws overlap with federal laws protecting employees from unlawful discrimination.
How much time can I request off work if I need to be absent for medical reasons?
Employers must allow employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year if the employee meets qualifications under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA).
The FMLA also allows qualifying employees to take time off to care for an immediate relative for up to 12 weeks. Note that this is the minimum protection afforded by federal law. Many employers offer paid time off and short-term disability for employees who need to take medical leave.
What are my rights during the hiring process?
You may not be subjected to discrimination during the hiring process on the basis of:
- national origin, or
A potential employer may not ask you questions, for example, regarding a disability. If a medical screening is required after an offer is extended, the process must be the same for all applicants, and records must be kept confidential. An employer may not ask you questions regarding your age or about a disability but can ask questions regarding your prior experience and ability to perform certain tasks related to the job.
Am I required to tell my employer if I have a disability?
You are ordinarily not required to disclose that you have a disability unless you are submitting a request for a reasonable accommodation. Many people live with disabilities that are not readily apparent to others, and many people are able to work without requesting any accommodations from their employer.
If you do not need to request a reasonable accommodation from your employer, whether or not to disclose a disability not readily apparent is your decision to make.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is an accommodation provided by an employer to an employee with a mental or physical impairment that allows the employee to work with the disability. Examples of reasonable accommodations include the following:
- allowing an employee who is receiving cancer treatment to take time off work to go to treatment and doctor's appointments;
- allowing an employee with a mental disability to work in a quieter environment;
- providing a sign language interpreter for deaf employees;
- providing wheelchair-accessible facilities.
Employers are not required to provide reasonable accommodations:
- that would create undue hardship for the business; or
- if the employee would be unable to substantially fulfill the requirements of the job even with accommodations.
How do I request a reasonable accommodation from my employer?
There is no requirement to formally submit a request for a reasonable accommodation. A request can be made simply by:
- speaking to a supervisor about the request; or
- providing a letter from a medical provider to a company's human resources department regarding the nature of the request.
After the request has been submitted, your employer should work with you to determine how a reasonable accommodation will be provided. Generally, an employer may choose an option that works best for the business if there are several different ways that an employer could provide reasonable accommodations.
What if I have been offered a severance package to leave my position?
It is important not to sign any agreement or accept a severance package without speaking to an attorney first. A severance agreement is a contract between an employer and an employee regarding the rights and responsibilities of both parties. A severance agreement may cover the following:
- any extended benefits for the employee after employment has been terminated;
- the amount of any severance pay the employee shall receive and for how long;
- a non-compete clause requiring the employee not to work for a competitor for a specified period of time; and
- an agreement not to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
An attorney can help explain any terms of a severance agreement that you do not understand and make sure that the agreement is fair to you before you sign it. A severance agreement is not a requirement for termination of at-will employment, but many employers will offer a severance package when laying off an employee to avoid the costs of litigation.
What if my employer did not give me a reason for terminating my employment?
New Jersey is an at-will employment state, which means that an employee can be fired for any reason as long as the reason is not unlawful -- like discrimination or protected whistleblowing activities. An employer is not required to state a reason for terminating employment. However, if you have recently been terminated from your job and something feels off about the situation, it may be a good idea to speak to an attorney with experience in employment litigation.
For example, if you recently returned from medical leave and were terminated when you returned to work, your employer may be in violation of the law even if it normally would not be required to state a reason for terminating your employment. In many cases, an employer's actions are illegal because of the context of the situation, not necessarily the stated reasons for terminating an employee or changing the conditions of employment. After you have filed a lawsuit in state or federal court, you may be able to request more information about why your employment was terminated through depositions and written discovery requests.
What is a wage and hour violation?
Employers are required to compensate you for work in compliance with state and federal laws on minimum wage. If you have been paid less than minimum wage for your services, you may be entitled to compensation. Some workers, like independent contractors, are exempt from the requirements regarding minimum wage and overtime. However, an employer cannot treat employees like regular employees while claiming on official documents that they are independent contractors to avoid legal obligations to pay the workers the wages that they are entitled to receive.
Failure to compensate a worker for overtime is another example of a wage and hour violation. Employers are required to pay most workers one-and-a-half their normal rate for any hours of overtime worked. This does not apply to most salaried workers. However, an employer is not allowed to improperly classify employees to avoid paying them overtime.
If you believe that your employer owes you money for unpaid overtime or if you have not been paid minimum wage for your time, you may be able to file a claim for compensation.
Contact Our Experienced New Jersey Employment Lawyers
If you believe that your rights as an employee have been violated for any reason, it is important to act right away. Having an experienced, knowledgeable attorney on your side can make all the difference in many employment law cases. An attorney can help ensure that you get the compensation you deserve. Call Kim, & Feliz, LLC at (201) 585-2250 to speak to a lawyer about your case or contact us online.