Big changes are in store for New Jersey’s workplaces, with dramatic legislation aimed at improving conditions for New Jersey’s workers. These changes include the enactment of New Jersey’s Equal Pay Act, a new law to help the unemployed, and passage of New Jersey’s Paid Sick Leave Act. Most likely one or all these laws will impact you or someone in your family.

New Jersey’s Equal Pay Act

Starting this month New Jersey will have the strongest pay equity law in the nation. Governor Murphy and the state legislature have sought to remedy workplace discrimination in how employees are paid.  The legislation was prompted by large earning disparities between different populations. For example, women in New Jersey earn roughly 81 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the National Women’s Law Center.  Even greater wage disparities exist between minority women and white men.

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New Jersey’s Equal Pay Act requires equal pay for “substantially similar work.” Unlike pay acts in other states, New Jersey’s law permits an individual denied equal pay a right to go to court and sue for treble (triple damages) and attorney fees. Moreover, New Jersey’s pay law is not just limited to pay differentials between the men and women, but also protects other groups.  So, for example, if a person with a disability is making less money than his non-disabled colleague, he or she can go to court to demand equal pay. 

Eliminating Severe Misconduct from the Unemployment Law

Another big change affecting New Jersey’s workers is in unemployment compensation. On June 25, 2018, the State Senate passed a bill (S-2439), which Governor Murphy is expected to sign into law. The bill eliminates “severe misconduct” from the existing law.  

Before 2010, the law disqualified workers for simple misconduct or gross misconduct (criminal wrongdoing).  In 2010, the Christie Administration added the category “severe misconduct” to reduce the number of state residents eligible for unemployment.  Under this category, an employee forfeits all unemployment until being rehired and being discharged without misconduct.  The 2010 law did not clearly define the difference between “severe misconduct” eliminating all compensation, “simple misconduct,” resulting in a seven-week disqualification, or just negligence, which should result in no disqualification. The confusion in the law has resulted in hardship for many employees, causing them to lose unemployment even when they were not acting willfully, deliberately or with bad motive. 

Under the bill just passed by the Senate, absent committing a crime, workers may only be disqualified for five weeks if found to deliberately disregard their employer’s reasonable expectations.

New Jersey’s Paid Sick Leave Act

On May 2, 2018, Governor Murphy signed into law the New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Act. The law will go into effect on October 29, 2018 and preempts all existing municipal earned sick leave laws. New Jersey employees will be allowed to earn one hour of paid sick leave time per 30 hours worked with a cap of 40 hours per year. Employees may use the sick leave for their own care or that of a family member. Employers are entitled to seven days’ notice of the need to use the sick leave when the need is foreseeable and can require reasonable documentation when the need for leave is at least three days.

The information contained in this article is not intended to create an attorney client relationship. If you need help with a specific legal problem, contact a qualified attorney. If you have a question about your rights or responsibilities in the workplace please feel free to contact David Rostan or Fred Shahrooz Scampato, attorneys who focus their practice in employment law for over twenty years. David can be reached at 973-520-8301, by email at rostanlaw@aol.com, or by visiting his website www.davidrostanlaw.com. Fred can be reached at 908-301-9095, by email at Scampato@njlaborlaw.com or by visiting his website www.njlaborlaw.com.