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...
On May 2, 2018, Governor Murphy signed the comprehensive paid sick leave bill passed by the New Jersey Legislature in April. For a description of the law and how it will affect New Jersey employers, please see our previous blog post. For questions regarding this bill, or paid sick leave laws generally, please feel free to contact an attorney in the Gibbons Employment & Labor Law Department.
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,...
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...
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), retaliation has become the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination of all charges received by the EEOC. In light of this, and after allowing for public comment on the EEOC’s proposed enforcement guidance issued earlier this year, on August 29, 2016, the EEOC issued its new Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues. This replaces the EEOC’s Compliance Manual Section 8: Retaliation, which was issued in 1998. The enforcement guidance sets forth the EEOC’s position on retaliation and addresses retaliation under each of the statutes enforced by the EEOC by providing a number of illustrative examples. Helpful to employers, the enforcement guidance concludes by providing employers “promising practices” to reduce the risk of violations. A general outline of the enforcement guidance follows.
The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) decided that an employer’s workplace investigations policy, which recommends employees keep an internal investigation confidential, violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) because it interfered with employees’ rights to communicate regarding matters affecting terms and conditions of employment. The ruling creates a quandary for employers to maintain effective workplace investigation policies and practices including confidentiality statements in anti-harassment policies.
New Jersey Appellate Division Decision Stresses Importance of Meaningful Anti-Harassment Policy and Training
An effective anti-harassment policy has long been recognized as a key component to an employer’s avoidance of liability for allegations of sexual, racial, or other harassment under New Jersey law. The New Jersey Appellate Division in Dunkley v. S. Coraluzzo Petroleum Transporters recently reinforced this fact, and the decision provides a helpful reminder to employers that adopting clear anti-harassment policies, providing regular training to its workforce, and immediately addressing allegations of harassment/discrimination once presented, are important factors that may help them avoid liability for the conduct of employees who violate such policies.
In June 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in Hitesman v. Bridgeway, Inc., affirmed the decision of a lower appellate court dismissing a claim brought by a healthcare worker under the New Jersey whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. § 34:19-1 et seq. (CEPA). The decision is significant because the Supreme Court clarified the role of a trial court on the issue of whether a plaintiff has sufficiently identified a rule of law or a public policy that provides the necessary foundation for a CEPA claim.
New Jersey Appellate Court Upholds Agreements Shortening the Statute of Limitations for Employment-Related Claims
On June 19, 2014, in Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Company, Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division upheld the validity of a provision in an employment application form by which the job applicant agreed that, if hired, he or she would bring any employment-related claim within 6 months after the claim arose. Plaintiff alleged he was terminated because of a disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) and in retaliation for having filed a workers compensation claim. The Appellate Division held that because the plaintiff brought these claims 9 months after his termination they were barred by the 6-month limitations period in the application form even though they were brought well within the 2-year statute of limitations period otherwise applicable to these types of claims.
NY Court of Appeals Gives Guidance on What Whistleblowers Need to Allege Under New York’s Whistleblower Law to Maintain Claim
On May 13, 2014, in Webb-Weber v. Community Action for Human Services, Inc., the New York Court of Appeals unanimously held that an employee need not identify the specific “law, rule or regulation” allegedly violated by his or her employer in a complaint for whistleblower retaliation under New York Labor Law Section 740 (2) in order to maintain a viable cause of action.