EEOC Updates “COVID-19 Technical Assistance Questions and Answers” with a Focus on Return-to-Work Guidance

EEOC Updates “COVID-19 Technical Assistance Questions and Answers” with a Focus on Return-to-Work Guidance

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is continuing to offer COVID-19 related guidance to support employers and employees in navigating the workplace during the pandemic. As we discussed in a previous blog post, the EEOC updated its Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act guidance (first published in 2009) to specifically address the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the Pandemic Preparedness guidance, the EEOC has issued What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws, technical assistance guidance that contains numerous COVID-19 related questions and answers. Similar to the pandemic preparedness guidance, the technical assistance addresses employer’s obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), specifically as they relate to accommodation requests and medical exams due to COVID-19, as well as other COVID-19 related workplace issues. The EEOC has continued to regularly update the technical assistance since its initial publication in March 2020, with the most recent updates in June 2020. The EEOC has explained that EEO laws like the ADA and Rehabilitation Act continue to apply during the COVID-19 pandemic, but do not interfere with or prevent employers from following guidelines and suggestions made by the Centers...

The U.S. DOL Issues Updated Guidance on CARES Act Unemployment Programs

The U.S. DOL Issues Updated Guidance on CARES Act Unemployment Programs

Since our March 28, 2020 post, “Phase Three COVID-19 Response Bill Now Law: What it Means for Businesses and Employees,” the United States Department of Labor (DOL) has issued three additional Unemployment Insurance Program Letters (UIPL), No. 15-20, No. 16-20, and No. 17-20, to provide additional guidance to states on the administration of the three unemployment insurance programs available under the CARES Act. UIPL No. 15-20 UIPL No. 15-20, issued on April 4, 2020, addresses Section 2104 of the CARES Act—Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits—which provides “eligible” individuals who are already collecting state-provided unemployment benefits an additional $600 per week in federal benefits through July 31, 2020. Who is eligible for the additional $600 FPUC payments? Individuals collecting regular unemployment compensation under state programs, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Extended Benefits (EB), Short-Time Compensation (STC), Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA), Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), and Payments under the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) program. FPUC is not available, however, for those receiving “additional benefits” (referred to as “extended benefits” by state UC programs) that extend the duration of benefits during high unemployment to those in approved training programs who have exhausted benefits, or for several other reasons. Individuals...

EEOC and NJ’s DCR Publish COVID-19 Guidance

EEOC and NJ’s DCR Publish COVID-19 Guidance

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) have joined a growing number of governmental agencies and public health organizations in issuing specific COVID-19 related guidance. The EEOC and DCR guidance each includes a series of frequently asked questions directed at ensuring compliance with federal and state anti-discrimination laws in the treatment of individuals affected by the novel coronavirus, in connection with employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. The DCR guidance, “Civil Rights and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions,” reminds employers, housing providers, and places of public accommodation of their obligations under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA). Among the topics covered by the DCR, the guidance: Reminds employers that the prohibitions against discrimination and harassment because of an LAD-protected characteristic apply even when the conduct at issue “stems from concerns related to COVID-19.” The DCR explains that firing an employee who is perceived to have a disability related to COVID-19 is unlawful. In addition, behavior such as referring to COVID-19 as the “the Chinese virus” or harassing employees of East Asian heritage by claiming Asian people caused COVID-19 is expressly prohibited, and...

UPDATE: Mandatory Nondiscrimination Policies, Training and Reporting: Proposed New Jersey Legislation Would Impose New Obligations on Employers and Lengthen the Limitations Period

UPDATE: Mandatory Nondiscrimination Policies, Training and Reporting: Proposed New Jersey Legislation Would Impose New Obligations on Employers and Lengthen the Limitations Period

On February 18, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy continued his quest to enhance employee protections in New Jersey by announcing proposed legislation aimed at strengthening New Jersey’s already-expansive prohibitions against harassment and discrimination in the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). According to the proposed legislative findings, the bill was designed to “reject the norms of yesterday that overlooked workplace harassment and discrimination as business as usual.” The proposed legislation comes on the heels of a report released by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) this month, Preventing and Eliminating Sexual Harassment in New Jersey, the result of a trio of public hearings held in September 2019. Employers are already scrambling to keep up with legislation directed at protecting call center employees, cracking down on misclassification, and expanding the rights of employees affected by a mass layoff or plant closing. Here are the highlights from the proposed legislation: Expanded Definition of Employee. Domestic workers and unpaid interns would be added to the definition of “employees” under the NJLAD and there are specific provisions governing domestic workers. Extended Time for Filing Claims. The current two-year statute of limitations applicable to claims brought under the NJLAD would be extended to three...

New Jersey Department of Labor Issues Final Regulations for Earned Sick Leave Law

New Jersey Department of Labor Issues Final Regulations for Earned Sick Leave Law

The New Jersey Earned Sick Leave Law (“ESLL”), which became effective in October 2018, requires New Jersey employers, among other things, to provide their employees with one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, with a maximum of 40 hours annual paid sick leave. Such leave may be used for an employee to care for their own or a family member’s physical or mental health or injury; address domestic or sexual violence against themselves or a family member; attend a child’s school-related meeting, conference or event; or take care of their children when school or child care is closed due to an epidemic or public health emergency. The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“NJDOL” or “Department”) recently issued final regulations for the ESLL (“final regulations” or “regulations”), ending more than a year of waiting for employers, from the time the NJDOL issued proposed ESLL rules (“proposed rules”), for which the 60-day comment period ended in December 2018. The regulations can be found here. The final regulations do not contain much in the way of substantive changes as compared to the proposed rules, but include extensive responses to more than 100 public comments, and provide guidance...

Governor Murphy Signs Bill Making Nondisclosure Provisions Unenforceable and Against Public Policy

Governor Murphy Signs Bill Making Nondisclosure Provisions Unenforceable and Against Public Policy

On Monday, March 18, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill No. 121, which makes nondisclosure provisions in employment contracts or settlement agreements that are intended to conceal the details of claims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment unenforceable and against public policy in New Jersey. Section 1 of the new law warns that a “provision in any employment contract that waives any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment” is against public policy and unenforceable.” The law does not define “employment contract” and leaves open to interpretation whether it applies to all agreements between employer and employee, whether an employment agreement, a separation agreement, or a settlement agreement. The prohibition on waiving any procedural right would make arbitration agreements, which by their nature waive the right to a jury trial, also invalid and unenforceable in contravention of the Federal Arbitration Act and recent United States Supreme Court precedent. An immediate challenge to this aspect of the law is likely since it casts doubt on all arbitration agreements between an employer and employee that seek to include claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Section 1 also prohibits a prospective waiver of any right...

New Jersey Senate Labor Committee Amends Bill Prohibiting Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Employment and Settlement Agreements

New Jersey Senate Labor Committee Amends Bill Prohibiting Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Employment and Settlement Agreements

In response to the recent spotlight on sexual abuse and harassment claims in the workplace and the #MeToo movement, the federal government and numerous states, including New Jersey, have focused attention on the use of nondisclosure provisions in settlement agreements involving claims of sexual harassment and assault. As we previously reported, the Tax Cuts and Job Bills Act was passed in December 2017 and includes a provision that bars any settlement or payment related to claims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse from being deducted as a business expense if the payments are subject to a nondisclosure agreement. While the federal tax bill aims to discourage the use of nondisclosure agreements, the proposed New Jersey legislation initially provided an outright ban on such agreements. At the time of its first introduction during the prior legislative session in December 2017, Senator Loretta Weinberg’s proposed bill prohibited New Jersey employers from including “a provision in any employment contract or agreement which has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.” The bill is unique because it is not limited to sexual harassment or abuse claims, but rather would apply to any type of discrimination,...

NJ Legislature Passes Paid Sick Leave Bill

NJ Legislature Passes Paid Sick Leave Bill

On the heels of sweeping pay equity legislation, the New Jersey Legislature has passed a comprehensive paid sick leave bill that, if signed, will require employers to provide employees with paid time off for a variety of purposes. For What Purpose Can Leave Be Taken? Employees can use paid sick leave for the following purposes: diagnosis, care, treatment, or recovery related to the employee’s illness; to care for a family member during diagnosis, care, treatment, or recovery related to a family member’s illness; for certain absences resulting from the employee or a family member being a victim of domestic or sexual violence; for time during which the employee is not able to work because of a closure of the employee’s workplace, or the school or place of care of a child of the employee, in connection with a public health emergency or a determination that the presence of the employee or child in the community would jeopardize the health of others; or to attend school-related conferences, meetings, or events, or to attend other meetings regarding care for the employee’s child. Paid time off used for these purposes must be paid at the same rate of pay with the same benefits...

Courts Send Signal That Care in Drafting Arbitration Provisions is Key

Courts Send Signal That Care in Drafting Arbitration Provisions is Key

Two recent decisions, one by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the other by the New Jersey Appellate Division, offer some interesting insight into the validity and viability of arbitration clauses that send employment-related disputes and claims out of the court system and into arbitration. In Moon v. Breathless, the Third Circuit Court held that an arbitration provision in an exotic dancer’s independent contractor agreement did not encompass her statutory FLSA and state wage-and-hour claims. Appellant Alissa Moon (“Moon”), a dancer at Breathless Men’s Club (“the Club”), filed a putative collective and class action against the Club in the District of New Jersey alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the New Jersey Wage Payment Law and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law. The Club moved to dismiss based upon an arbitration provision contained in the Independent Dancer Rental Agreement (the “Agreement”) that Moon signed. The Agreement also contained a provision stating Moon was an independent contractor and not an employee. The District Court denied the Club’s motion to dismiss and directed the parties to engage in limited discovery on whether Moon’s claims were subject to a valid arbitration provision. Following discovery, the District Court found that...

Federal DOL Rescinds Joint Employer and Independent Contractor Guidance

Federal DOL Rescinds Joint Employer and Independent Contractor Guidance

On June 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”), announced that it was rescinding two significant and heavily-criticized Obama-era Administrator’s Interpretations, the first on joint employer liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq. (“FLSA”) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (“MSPA”) (the “Joint Employer AI”), and the second on independent contractor misclassification under the FLSA (the “Independent Contractor AI”). In its June 7th statement concerning the rescissions, the DOL made its intentions clear: Removal of the two administrator interpretations does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act or Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, as reflected in the Department’s long-standing regulations and case law. The Department will continue to fully and fairly enforce all laws within its jurisdiction including the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. Although neither AI constituted a legal precedent, the January 2016 Joint Employer AI presented the DOL’s analysis of the joint employer principles under caselaw interpreting the FLSA and the MSPA. Gibbons issued an alert about the Joint Employer AI...