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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes a minimum wage for the entire country, requires employers to pay overtime when employees work more than forty hours during a week, and provides other protections for workers’ rights. A significant increase in the number of people working remotely over the past few years has raised questions about what constitutes “work time” away from the workplace. Non-exempt employees are entitled to pay for short break periods under the FLSA and New Jersey employment laws. Court decisions and administrative cases addressing this issue, however, have mostly involved time that non-exempt employees have spent in the workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued a Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) in February 2023 that discusses break time for remote workers under the FLSA. Its conclusions are favorable towards the employees. While the FAB does not have the force of law, courts may be able to rely on it should this issue reach them.

FLSA regulations generally require employers to pay employees for job duties that they have performed, even if the employer did not specifically request it. For example, an employer must pay an employee who continues to work past the end of their shift in order to finish an assignment. This also applies when the employee performs the work off-site, including at the employee’s home.

An employee’s compensable time is not necessarily limited to the time they are actively engaged in their job duties. As a general rule, employees are entitled under the FLSA to get paid for rest breaks, but not meal breaks. Regulations define a rest break as a break lasting no more than twenty minutes that serves to “promote the efficiency of the employee.” “Bona fide meal periods,” as defined by the regulations, typically last at least thirty minutes. They are not considered compensable work time as long as the employee is relieved of all work responsibilities. The question for the WHD involves how these rules apply to remote workers.
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Employers often use provisions in employment agreements to limit employees’ activities after the employment relationship has ended. The purpose of these provisions is to protect employers’ business interests, but they can be harmful to employees. Non-compete agreements restrict employees’ job prospects by limiting their ability to work for a company that competes with their current employer. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that around 30 million workers are currently subject to a non-compete agreement. New Jersey employment law sets several important limits on non-compete agreements but still allows them. Only a few states have enacted laws that place significant restrictions on them. In early January 2023, the FTC issued a proposed rule that would make most non-compete agreements an unfair method of competition under federal law. The agency is currently accepting comments from the public regarding the proposal.

From an employer’s point of view, a non-compete agreement stops an employee from taking all the training and experience they have received on the job to a competitor. In practice, however, non-compete agreements can be so broad that they make it difficult for former employees to find new jobs at all. Employers may also try to enforce them against employees who were laid off, not just employees who quit.

New Jersey courts generally allow non-compete agreements if they meet the following three criteria:
– The agreement protects a valid interest of the employer.
– It does not place an undue hardship on the employee.
– It does not harm the public interest.
To meet the second criterion, a non-compete agreement usually has to have limits on the type of work involved, the geographic area, and the duration. A non-compete agreement could be enforceable, for example, if it prohibits a former employee from working for another company in a specific market sector within five miles of the employer’s location for a period of six months.
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The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2023 became law on December 29, 2022. The bill includes two new laws, originally introduced as separate bills, that address pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. While New Jersey employment law provides a rather wide range of protections for employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth, federal law is still catching up. These new laws address the physical needs and limitations that often accompany pregnancy and childbirth, which may require accommodations in the workplace. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) prohibits discrimination based on “known limitations” associated with pregnancy or childbirth. The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act addresses the need for employees with newborns to have break time and a private location to express breast milk. Some provisions of the laws became effective immediately, while others will take effect later in 2023.

New Jersey Pregnancy Discrimination Law

Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and associated medical conditions. The NJLAD goes a step further than federal law by specifically requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, such as extra breaks for water or to use the restroom, modified work schedules, and lifting restrictions. At the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) arguably provides this for at least some conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, but it does not address reasonable accommodations in those specific contexts.

The NJLAD and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) both require employers to provide employees who are breastfeeding their children with a private location other than a restroom where they can express milk. Section 7(r) of the FLSA specifically states that employers are not obligated to pay employees for time spent exercising these rights.
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New Jersey employment laws safeguard a wide range of rights for employees, including the right to a minimum wage and overtime compensation, a workplace free from unlawful discrimination, and the ability to organize and negotiate collectively for better working conditions. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law that protects employees’ rights to self-organization and collective bargaining. It prohibits both employers and unions for coercing employees or interfering with their lawful activities. If an employer has allegedly violated its employees’ rights under the statute, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has the authority to seek a temporary injunction blocking the employer’s alleged actions. A federal district court in New Jersey granted this type of injunction to the NLRB in late 2022.

The NLRA broadly protects workers’ rights to form or join unions. It prohibits a variety of unfair labor practices by both employers and unions. Employers violate the statute if they interfere with lawful employee actions or discriminate against employees because of organizing activity. The statute also imposes affirmative duties on employers. Once employees have chosen a union to represent them in contract negotiations, § 8(a)(5) of the NLRA makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer to refuse to negotiate with an authorized union representative.

The General Counsel (GC) of the NLRB can bring an administrative action against an employer or union for alleged NLRA violations. If the GC and the employer cannot reach a settlement, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will hear the case and render a decision. The members of the Board may hear appeals of ALJ decisions. From there, it may be possible to appeal a decision in the federal court system. One provision of the NLRA, however, allows the NLRB to seek relief from a federal court while a case is pending.
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Many of the features that we take for granted in the modern workplace are the result of labor organizing that occurred decades ago. The forty-hour work week and eight-hour work day are examples of benefits that labor unions achieved not only for their own members but for workers across the country. New Jersey employment laws regulate minimum wage and overtime pay thanks to the work of unions. Partly in recognition of the important role labor organizing plays in protecting workers’ rights, Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in the 1930s. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has the authority to adjudicate disputes involving alleged interference with organizing activities and other unlawful acts. Two recent NLRB decisions involving disputes arising in New Jersey demonstrate the NLRA’s importance for worker protection.

From workers’ point of view, the two most important provisions of the NLRA are probably § 7 and § 8(a). Section 7 broadly identifies workers’ protected rights, including self-organization and collective bargaining. Section 8(a) defines unfair labor practices by employers. These may include:
– Interfering with workers’ attempts to organize themselves;
– Preventing workers from forming or joining a union;
– Discriminating against employees because of protected union activities; and
– Refusing to engage in collective bargaining with employees’ lawfully chosen representatives.

The NLRB has the authority to investigate alleged violations of workers’ rights. The General Counsel of the NLRB may pursue a claim against an employer before an administrative law judge (ALJ). A party before an ALJ may appeal the ALJ’s decision to the full NLRB. Remedies for aggrieved workers may include back pay and reinstatement to a former position. The NLRB may also order an employer to cease and desist from further violations and to revise its employment policies and practices.
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Pay disparities among employees are a common form of employment discrimination. Wage gaps exist based on sex, race, and other categories that are protected by New Jersey employment laws. Addressing the problem can be difficult because the evidence is often hidden from view. Many employers have tried, for example, to prevent employees from discussing their wages. State and federal laws now protect employees’ ability to talk about how much they get paid, but a great deal of information remains concealed. A new pay transparency law in New York City requires employers to disclose pay ranges when they advertise job openings. So far, only one city in New Jersey has this type of law. Advocates for pay transparency laws say that they will help address wage gaps among employees.

Several laws address wage disparities and discrimination in New Jersey. These include the following issues:
– Pay equity;
– Attempts by employers to prevent employees from discussing their rates of pay; and
– Pay transparency.

Pay Equity

The federal Equal Pay Act (EPA), found at 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), prohibits wage discrimination based on sex or gender. Generally speaking, employers must pay employees of any gender the same amount for work that “requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility,” and that employees “perform[] under similar working conditions.” Exceptions include systems based on merit, seniority, “quantity or quality of production,” or “any other factor other than sex.”
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The U.S. legal system has much to say about employees’ duty to safeguard their employers’ proprietary or confidential information. Employees entrust a substantial amount of personal identifying information (PII) to their employers, but New Jersey employment laws have not defined employers’ legal duty to keep this information secure nearly as well. A recent decision from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals allows an employee’s privacy lawsuit against her former employer to proceed. The employee alleged negligence and other common-law claims after a data breach allowed hackers to obtain her PII and publish it on the “dark web.”

Most New Jersey employment laws relating to employee privacy address employers’ actions. A law that took effect in 2022, for example, prohibits employers from installing tracking devices on vehicles that employees drive without notifying them first. A 2013 New Jersey law prohibits most employers from compelling employees to provide access to their social media accounts. Federal laws like the Stored Communications Act could apply to employers who access employees’ private email accounts without permission.

An employer’s legal duty to protect employees’ PII from data breaches is less clear. PII may include birthdates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and other information that fraudsters often find quite valuable. Identity theft and related crimes are a serious problem, resulting in billion of dollars in losses every year. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that it received almost 1.4 million reports of identity theft from consumers in 2021.
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Federal and state laws limit where someone may file a lawsuit. The court must have the legal authority to hear the case and issue rulings affecting the defendant, known as jurisdiction. The location of the court, known as the venue, must have some connection to the events of the case or either of the parties. In many lawsuits, determining jurisdiction and venue is easy, such as when both parties are located in the same vicinity. New Jersey employment laws apply to employees, employers, and events in New Jersey. It can be more complicated when the events or the parties’ locations cross county or state lines. A recent decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, addressed an employment discrimination and retaliation lawsuit that involved events in both New Jersey and Connecticut.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) bars New Jersey employers from discriminating against employees and job seekers on the basis of a wide range of factors. These include race, religion, sex, disability, and sexual orientation. The statute also prohibits retaliation by employers against employees who report unlawful acts, assist in investigations, or engage in other protected activities. At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has similar provisions, although its protections against workplace discrimination are not as broad.

Both of these statutes provide guidance on where employees may file a lawsuit. Title VII states that an individual may file a lawsuit in U.S. district court in the district where:
– The alleged violation occurred;
– Relevant employment records are located;
– The individual would have worked had the unlawful act not occurred; or
– The employer’s main office is located.
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The legal status of cannabis has gone through a number of changes in recent years, at least at the state level. Cannabis remains illegal under federal law. Medical use of cannabis has been legal under New Jersey law, however, for over a decade. A state law allowing limited possession and use for recreational purposes took effect in 2021. These changes impact New Jersey employment laws with regard to issues like mandatory drug testing, drug-free workplaces, and the use of a now-legal substance by employees outside of work hours. In October 2022, the White House announced that the president would be issuing pardons for people with federal convictions for simple cannabis possession. This raises questions about how New Jersey and federal laws relating to the use of criminal history in employment decisions will affect pardoned workers.

New Jersey Criminal History Discrimination

Criminal history is not a protected category under federal or state employment discrimination laws. Workers who have arrest or conviction records do, however, have some protection during the job application process. Many employers have tried to screen applicants with criminal records, even if an applicant’s particular history would have no bearing on the job they are seeking. This makes it all but impossible for thousands of people to find work.

Under the Opportunity to Compete Act (OTCA), New Jersey employers may not ask job applicants about criminal history at the beginning of the hiring process. The statute allows employers to make inquiries about criminal history once an applicant has completed an initial interview. Exceptions apply for certain jobs, such as law enforcement or professions where another state or federal law requires a criminal background check.
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Remote work has become common for many workers in New Jersey and around the country. The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused a transition that was already underway to speed up. The increasing amount of remote work, however, raises legal questions that might not have easy answers. When an employee who lives in New Jersey works from home for their New Jersey-based employer, it is clear that New Jersey employment laws apply to them. What happens, though, when an employee works from their New Jersey home for an employer in another state? Determining which state’s laws should apply has proven to be difficult.

The question of which state’s law applies when a work-from-home arrangement crosses state lines has no simple answer. The legal system has only begun to address it. State employment laws can significantly differ from one state to another. New Jersey offers wide-ranging protections against employment discrimination, for example, with far more protected categories than many other state laws. The state government has issued regulations allowing employers with virtual workers to make posters advising employees of their rights available online. Many other questions remain unanswered.

At least one New Jersey court has ruled on how state law applies to state residents who work outside the state. A 2013 federal court decision held that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) did not cover a New Jersey resident who worked out-of-state. The plaintiff lived in New Jersey. His employer, however, was based in Pennsylvania, and almost all of the plaintiff’s job duties occurred there. The plaintiff, who was alleging discrimination and harassment, argued that the NJLAD should apply since he received harassing messages via text and email while at home in New Jersey. The court disagreed.
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