New Jersey Law Prohibits Employers from Penalizing Workers Involved in Volunteer Emergency Services

Legal News GavelNumerous New Jersey employment laws at both the state and federal levels prohibit employers from retaliating against employees, including in the forms of termination, suspension, demotion, and other adverse actions, for engaging in various legally protected activities. Proving that a particular adverse action was motivated by an employee’s protected activities can be difficult and often requires documentation of contacts between an employee and the employer’s management. Unlawful retaliation often occurs in connection with other unlawful acts by an employer, such as discrimination or harassment. It can also occur, however, in connection with lawful acts by an employee, of the sort that we want to encourage as a matter of public policy. Several years ago, New Jersey enacted a law aimed at protecting workers who volunteer to serve their communities in times of emergency. The New Jersey Emergency Responders Employment Protection Act (NJEREPA), which took effect in 2010, protects workers from adverse employment actions for missing work due to volunteer emergency service.

Retaliation claims frequently arise along with claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, such as when an employer terminates an employee for reporting unlawful discrimination. The purpose of these laws’ anti-retaliation provisions is to encourage workers to come forward with reports of sexual harassment and other discriminatory acts. The National Labor Relations Act prohibits retaliation by employers against workers engaged in labor organizing and related activities, with the goal of helping workers assert their rights through collective bargaining. The Family and Medical Leave Act protects workers’ right to legally authorized leave by prohibiting retaliation for taking leave.

The NJEREPA applies to “volunteer emergency responders,” defined as individuals actively involved in emergency responses with a volunteer fire department, a “first aid, rescue or ambulance squad,” or a local emergency management department. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 40A-14-214(a). The statute prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who misses work because of service as a volunteer emergency responder, provided that the employee meets two criteria:  (1) the employee notifies the employer at least one hour before a scheduled work shift, and (2) the employee provides the employer with “a copy of the incident report and a certification by the incident commander” when they return to work. Id. at § 40A-14-214(b). The employer is not required to pay the employee for time missed from work.

One notable absence from the NJEREPA is any express provision for enforcement, such as by a civil lawsuit by an employee. It is not clear whether any New Jersey court has ruled on a claim brought under this statute. Looking at similar statutes in other states shows what enforcement provisions might look like. Pennsylvania prohibits employers from “terminat[ing] or disciplin[ing]” employees involved in volunteer emergency response and does not include specific notice requirements for the employee. 35 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7423. Employers that violate these provisions must revoke any penalties or discipline against the employee, and they may be liable for lost wages and attorney’s fees. Id. at § 7427. California law has similar provisions and adds misdemeanor criminal liability for some violations. Cal. Lab. Code § 230.3.

If you need to speak to a whistleblower attorney about a dispute in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

Supreme Court to Address Ambiguity in Whistleblower Provisions of Dodd-Frank, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, November 3, 2017

What Does New Jersey Retaliation Law Say About Firing Someone for Political Beliefs or Activities? The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 27, 2017

Plaintiff in New Jersey Whistleblower Lawsuit Alleges Retaliation, Wrongful Termination, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 13, 2017

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