Tag Archives: adam gersh

2019 Law At Work – Year In Review

New Year 2020 Loading Bar ConceptThey say the only thing in life that is constant is change, and we certainly saw that in 2019.  This was a big year for change in employment law as legislators, courts, and regulators, shaped the workplace to reflect societal changes.  The changes we saw included new requirements that address continued fallout from the #MeToo movement, concerns about wage distribution and equity, and balancing the rights of employers and unions.  Coupling these legal changes with competitive pressures due to labor shortages in certain industries, the stakes are higher than ever for employers.  We are seeing rapid change in the workplace and now is not the time fall behind.  In case you missed it, here are some issues that we brought to employers this year:

New 2020 Overtime Rule Means Employers Must Reevaluate Which Employees Are Overtime Eligible 

As you may recall, the U.S. Department of Labor released a Final Rule which was to go into effect on December 1, 2016, but, due to a court-issued injunction, followed by change of administration, it never did.  Now, we have an updated version that goes into effect on January 1, 2020.  Although the proposals leading up to these new rules garnered a lot of ink, the new rules make some changes that were not expected and maintain the status quo in areas that were expected to change. The DOL says the increase in salary thresholds will boost wages for 1.3 million U.S. workers. More here.

What Employers Need to Know About New Jersey’s Tough New Wage Theft Law 

On August 6, 2019, New Jersey amended its Wage and Hour Law and adopted the new Wage Theft Act (WTA), creating one of the toughest wage and hour enforcement laws in the country.  This law puts a high burden on employers and imposes significantly increased liability for employers who fail to pay wages owed, including potential jail time.

Click here to read more about what this means for employers and what employers should do to protect themselves from liability under the WTA.

New Jersey Prohibits Employers From Asking Prospective Employees About Their Salary Histories  

Beginning in January, employers will no longer be able to screen job applicants based on their wage or salary history, or inquire about their historical salary, compensation and benefits. However, a prospective employee may still voluntarily provide salary information. The bill doesn’t go into effect until January 25th, but employers should be preparing to amend their recruitment processes before it is enacted.

Practically, this law means employers will need to rely on measures other than a candidate’s salary history in setting compensation, including internal pay policies and market-based analysis. Click here to learn more.

SCOTUS Rules Requirement to File Charge Before Suing Under Title VII is Nonjurisdictional: Employers Must Raise Defense Timely 

The main takeaway from the opinion named in this legal alert is that employers faced with violations of Title VII must be careful to promptly raise the defense, when available, that the employee failed to file a charge with the EEOC within the allotted time period. In many Circuit Courts of Appeal, including the Third Circuit, this has long been the law, while in other Circuits, employers could raise this defense at any time. Now, all employers must raise it timely. Employers and their counsel should be careful to do so.

If you are facing any complaints under Title VII and/or any state equivalents, click here to read about this case in more detail.

New Jersey Creates Employment Protections for Medical Cannabis Patients and Providers

In addition to the range of court decisions that shape how employers treat employees who use medical cannabis, in July, New Jersey’s legislature weighed in with new requirements. Now, no matter how an employer ultimately chooses to treat employees and applicants who use medical cannabis lawfully under the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act, employers need to amend their drug screening programs and hiring processes to ensure that they are in compliance with this law. Employers also need to consider whether they will accept a valid medical explanation as a basis to disregard a positive test, especially in light of recent court rulings that may create liability for employers who take adverse action against employees and applicants who use medical cannabis in accordance with state law. Click here to learn more.

New Jersey Requires Pre-Tax Transportation Fringe Benefits 

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated a federal tax deduction for employers which had allowed them to deduct the cost of providing qualified transportation benefits to employees (thereby removing the tax incentive for employers to do so). In response, earlier this summer New Jersey enacted “An Act Concerning Pre-Tax Transportation Fringe Benefits” requiring all New Jersey employers with 20 or more employees to offer employees the opportunity to set aside wages on a pre-tax basis for the purchase of qualifying transportation services, such as transit passes and commuter highway vehicle travel. Click here to learn more about what this means for employers, including next steps and how to ensure your company is in compliance.

What Employers Need To Know: New Jersey’s Appellate Division Issues Historic Ruling On Medical Marijuana Users’ Rights in the Workplace

New Jersey employers need to be mindful that they no longer have a free pass to take adverse employment actions against employees and candidates solely because they use medical marijuana; those affected by such decisions will be emboldened by this new case, and their lawyers will be confident that a lawsuit challenging the adverse actions is more likely to survive a motion to dismiss at the beginning of the case. As the law in New Jersey now stands, employers are not required to accommodate medical marijuana use, but there is now an increased risk if they refuse. Additionally, various bills have been proposed and are being considered by the New Jersey legislature, which, if adopted, may expand employee rights in this area of the law.

As of right now, employers remain free to take adverse action if an employee shows any sign of impairment from use of medical marijuana, or, for that matter, any other drug, legal or not. More here.

Medical Cannabis Goes to Work 

Employers who take action against a candidate or employee based on a positive result for cannabis when the employee has a valid medical authorization and no evidence of impairment should be prepared for a fight.  Employees and their lawyers are looking for these cases in many states to try to change the law. Employers need to decide if screening out medical cannabis users is worth the risk of a potentially expensive court battle. More here.

Unions High on Cannabis 

As businesses across the country look to capitalize on the “green rush” from states’ expanded medical and adult use cannabis laws, unions are also eager to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this burgeoning, and quickly maturing, industry.  For instance, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has formed a cannabis-focused division and is actively representing cannabis workers in many states and seeking to expand to others.  These unions may also get a boost from legislative action in certain states.  Under New Jersey’s proposed cannabis expansion law, for example, licensee applicants who have entered into a labor peace agreement or a collective bargaining agreement receive preference in the license competition.  Expect unions to seek to represent workers in cannabis-related construction, retail, farming, cultivation, security, and processing.

Employers operating in and/or servicing the cannabis industry should consider and plan for the potential impact of labor unions in their industry.

Walmart Takes a Seat in California 

Earlier this year, Walmart reportedly agreed to pay $65 million to settle a case brought on behalf of nearly 100,000 current and former California cashiers who claimed the company violated their rights under a state law dating back to 1911 when it failed to provide them with seating.  The workers claimed Walmart, which denied any wrongdoing, breached its duty to make seating available “when the nature of the work reasonably permits.” This case is a friendly reminder that employers need to look carefully at their duty to offer reasonable accommodations to employees and to engage in an interactive process to make sure that the employer can justify any denied accommodation. More here.

What New Jersey’s New Law On Employment Contracts Means for Employers: Are Non-Disclosure and Arbitration Provisions Out? 

On March 18, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a new law, which, among other things, bars employers from requiring employees to sign or enforcing employment contracts that require employees to agree to waive certain rights or remedies and bars agreements that conceal details relating to discrimination claims. Click here for a checklist of what employers need to know, including what this law prohibits and applies to in the workplace.

Questions? Let me know.

Medical Cannabis Goes to Work

marijuana for medicinal purpose

In the latest salvo in an evolving legal issue, a federal court in Arizona ruled against Walmart in a recent lawsuit for terminating an employee who possessed a valid medical marijuana card after a drug test of the worker came back positive.  On the issue of cannabis use by employees, employers are having increasing difficulty reconciling their duty to make reasonable accommodations for employees suffering from disabilities with their drug screening policies.  Employers can and should take action to prevent impairment at work.   But how should an employer in a state where medical cannabis is legal handle an employee who tests positive in a drug screen but produces a valid authorization for use of medical cannabis?  To date, with certain exceptions, most courts have permitted an employer to refuse to hire a candidate or to enforce discipline against an employee who tests positive for cannabis, despite a valid authorization to use it for medical purposes. However, employees and others are challenging that norm regularly on the state and federal level.  Stay tuned.

Savvy employer takeaways: Employers who take action against a candidate or employee based on a positive result for cannabis when the employee has a valid medical authorization and no evidence of impairment should be prepared for a fight.  Employees and their lawyers are looking for these cases in many states to try to change the law. Employers need to decide if screening out medical cannabis users is worth the risk of a potentially expensive court battle.  

Questions? Let me know.

What Employers Need To Know: New Jersey’s Appellate Division Issues Historic Ruling On Medical Marijuana Users’ Rights in the Workplace

Marijuana Medical PrescriptionEver since the use of properly prescribed medical marijuana became legal in New Jersey, Courts have grappled with reconciling state and federal laws protecting employees from disability discrimination, and employers’ rights to maintain workplaces free of drug use. In simple terms, New Jersey law permits the use of medical marijuana, which is illegal under federal law. With limited exceptions, the decisions in these cases have come down in favor of employers’ right to enforce workplace drug rules. Generally, courts have permitted employers to discipline, terminate, or refuse to hire employees who use medical marijuana, even if there is no evidence of use or impairment in the workplace.

This week, New Jersey’s Appellate Division joined the minority of courts that have found an employee may be able to state a disability discrimination claim against an employer who takes an adverse employment action due to the employee’s use of medical marijuana.

What Happened?

In 2015, the employee, a funeral director, was diagnosed with cancer and was prescribed and used medical marijuana as authorized by New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Act as part of his treatment. In 2016, the employee was in an auto accident while working and he was taken by ambulance to a hospital. The employee advised hospital staff he was authorized to use medical marijuana. The treating doctor responded that “it was clear [the employee] was not under the influence of marijuana [and, thus, his marijuana use was not a cause of the accident], and therefore no blood tests were required.”

While the employee recuperated, his father took his medical prescription and marijuana license to his son’s supervisor and explained what had happened and why the hospital had not given a drug test. Later that day, the employer called and spoke to the employee’s father to advise that a blood test was required before the employee could return to work.

Later that evening, the employee went to a facility to take a urine and breathalyzer test; however, the results of those tests were not provided to the employer and were not part of the case record.

The next day, the employee returned to the funeral home, not as an employee, but because a close friend’s family member had died. While there, he and his supervisor spoke briefly about his job status. His supervisor said he had not heard from “corporate” but did not see how it would be a problem since the employee had a prescription for his marijuana use. The employee told the supervisor, “I only take it when I am home, not at work because I don’t want to jeopardize my license for what I have worked so hard for.”

The employee eventually returned to work, but, shortly after his return, his supervisor advised him that “corporate” was unable to “handle” his marijuana use and that his employment was “being terminated because they found drugs in your system”, though no test had actually been provided to the employer. In a subsequent letter, the company told the employee it had terminated him not because of his drug use, but because he failed to disclose his use of medication that might adversely affect his ability to perform his job duties. According to a company policy, “employees must advise their immediate supervisor if they are taking any medication that may adversely affect their ability to perform assigned duties safely.”

The employee brought an action alleging he had been a victim of disability discrimination.

What did the Courts decide?

The trial court dismissed the employee’s claims, finding that New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Act “does not contain employment-related protections for licensed users of medical marijuana.” The employee appealed.

On appeal, a three-judge panel of New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed the dismissal in a unanimous decision. The Appellate Division acknowledged that the Compassionate Use Act unambiguously states it does not “require . . . an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.” Nevertheless, the appellate panel found that the New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination might require such an accommodation. Although the Compassionate Use Act does not make illegal an employer’s adverse action against an employee for medical marijuana use, by the same token, the Appellate Division stated it does not immunize an employer’s conduct that might otherwise have been a violation of the Law Against Discrimination. For this reason, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s dismissal and permitted the case to proceed.

What do employers need to know?

At the outset, it is important to understand that the Appellate Division did not rule that this employee had been a victim of disability discrimination. In fact, the Court expressly recognized that the case was at the earliest stages, and the employer had pled potentially valid defenses.  The Court ruled only that the case could not be dismissed on its face.

Although this precedent is now binding on state trial courts in New Jersey, it is far from settled law, and may well be subject to an appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court. However, New Jersey employers need to be mindful that they no longer have a free pass to take adverse employment actions against employees and candidates solely because they use medical marijuana; those affected by such decisions will be emboldened by this new case, and their lawyers will be confident that a lawsuit challenging the adverse actions is more likely to survive a motion to dismiss at the beginning of the case. As the law in New Jersey now stands, employers are not required to accommodate medical marijuana use, but there is now an increased risk if they refuse. Additionally, various bills have been proposed and are being considered by the New Jersey legislature, which, if adopted, may expand employee rights in this area of the law.

In other words, stay tuned, because we have certainly not heard the last word on this topic. With that said, employers remain free to take adverse action if an employee shows any sign of impairment from use of medical marijuana, or, for that matter, any other drug, legal or not.

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If you have any questions about this legal alert or if you run across a related issue in your workplace, please feel free to contact Adam Gersh or any other member of Flaster Greenberg’s Labor & Employment Department.

Walmart Takes a Seat in California

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Walmart reportedly agreed to pay $65 million to settle a case brought on behalf of nearly 100,000 current and former California cashiers who claimed the company violated their rights under a state law dating back to 1911 when it failed to provide them with seating.  The workers claimed Walmart, which denied any wrongdoing, breached its duty to make seating available “when the nature of the work reasonably permits.”

Walmart claimed that the nature of the cashier job did not reasonably permit seating, because placing stools or chairs at the store’s cash registers would pose a safety risk and hinder productivity. However, Walmart had a policy of offering stools to cashiers with medical conditions or disabilities, and store managers had the discretion to provide stools to cashiers on a case-by-case basis.

In a court filing, Walmart and counsel for the cashiers said the settlement, if approved, would be the largest ever under California’s unique Private Attorney General Act, which allows workers to sue their employers on behalf of the state and keep a portion of any award.

Curiously, other major retailers in California faced similar lawsuits, but Walmart did not act proactively to address this issue.  Even putting aside the anticipated benefit of improved employee relations resulting from voluntary compliance, with the benefit of hindsight, one has to wonder if the cost of compliance, even if it were to result in reduced productivity, would have been less than the cost to settle.

Savvy employer takeaways: Employers need to look carefully at their duty to offer reasonable accommodations to employees and to engage in an interactive process to make sure that the employer can justify any denied accommodation.

Questions? Let me know.

New Jersey Expands Paid Family Leave: Action Items for New Jersey Employers

wheelchair silhouetteEarlier this year, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a bill providing for an expansion of the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) in important ways.  Prior to this bill, the NJFLA required employers with 50 or more employees to provide employees up to 6 weeks of consecutive paid leave, or 42 days of intermittent leave in any 12-month period, to care for a sick family member.

This new bill expands those protections to cover smaller employers and to extend the amount of leave, among other things.  Some of the bill’s most notable changes include:

  • As of June 30, 2019, employers with 30 or more employees will be subject to the NJFLA’s leave requirements;
  • For leave commencing on or after July 1, 2020, employees are permitted up to 12 weeks of consecutive leave (instead of 6), or 56 days of intermittent leave over a 12-month period;
  • The definition of an applicable “family member” now includes not only children, parents and spouses, but also parents-in-law, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partners, any individual related to the employee by blood, or even any individual who shares a relationship with the employee that is equivalent to a family relationship, including foster children and children who are born via a gestational carrier;
  • Employees may also now take leave under the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act to care for any family member (as defined above) in the event of a domestic violence or sexually violent incident; and
  • Employees can now receive 85% of their weekly wage from the State’s Family Leave Insurance program, with the maximum possible benefit increasing to 70% of New Jersey’s average weekly wage, meaning, based on current calculations, the maximum weekly benefit would increase from $650 to $860.

What does this mean for employers? 

The bill’s expansion of who is covered under the NJFLA, the amount of leave required, and the increase in available compensation through the State’s Family Leave Insurance program presents new and unique challenges for employers.  For the very first time, the bill requires employers with between 30 and 49 employees to provide its employees with paid leave to care for a sick family member.  This can have dramatic consequences on the benefits provided by those employers to their employees.  Even for employers already subject to the NJFLA, the bill increases, and in some cases doubles, the paid leave they are required to provide to their employees.  Moreover, employees will be more likely to take full leave since the increase in benefits eases the financial burden of doing so.  Covered employers must now prepare for employees to take longer absences in the face of sudden and/or planned health conditions, pregnancies/births, adoptions, and even the placement of children into foster care. 

Next steps for employers? 

Given this information, below are three action items New Jersey employers should take into consideration when preparing to their workplace for the implementation of this expansion of the NJFLA 

1. Review your employee handbook and modify certain policies

The employee handbook is frequently the most basic protection an employer has to ensure compliance with employment laws.  Most employee handbooks provide for employees to take leave to care for themselves and/or a sick family member.  An employer may open itself up to liability under the NJFLA if its handbook conflicts with the Act’s minimum requirements.  In most cases, a simple update of the employee handbook can help employers become compliant with the NJFLA’s new requirements and avoid liability for failing to provide sufficient paid leave.  Many employers will also want to ensure employees are using their paid leave concurrently to minimize any disruption.

2. Provide training to managers and supervisors to ensure compliance with the NJFLA

As managers and supervisors are typically directly responsible for granting employees leave and accounting for subsequent absences, it is critical that managers and supervisors be familiar with the NJFLA’s requirements.  The best way to ensure such familiarity is to train managers so that they understand and carry out the company’s policies concerning paid leave, as well as the NJFLA’s requirements.

3. Documentation

Thorough and precise documentation will help support any decision to deny an employee’s request for leave to care for a sick family member that is later challenged.  Document every decision granting or denying any employee’s request for paid leave, as this will help demonstrate uniformity in the employer’s decision-making.  Further, the NJFLA permits employers to request written proof of covered occurrences, such as medical notes from an employee’s family member’s doctors.  Employers should not hesitate to exercise this right under the NJFLA, and should adopt policies urging managers to do so. 

If you have any questions about this legal alert or if you run across a paid family or sick leave issue in your workplace, please feel free to contact Adam GershJeremy Cole, or any other member of Flaster Greenberg’s Labor & Employment Department.

U.S. Dept. of Labor Makes Its Move

Employment attorney adam gersh

As long-time readers of this blog may recall, since 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor  has been trying to update its Fair Labor Standards Act  regulations to qualify more employees for overtime pay. For basic exemptions, meaning those that are not industry-dependent such as the administrative, executive and professional exemptions, employers may generally classify as exempt from overtime pay only employees who meet both a duties test and a salary test.  Since 2004, federal law allowed employers to designate salaried workers who earn at least $455/week (the equivalent of $23,660/year) and meet certain “white collar exemption” duties-test requirements as exempt from overtime.  This month, the DOL issued a proposed rule to increase that salary exemption to $679/week (equivalent to $35,308/year).  If adopted, salaried employees who meet an applicable duties test and earn more than $455/week but less than $679/week will no longer be exempt from overtime under the basic exemptions.  Importantly, the DOL proposed rule will allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses (for example incentive bonuses tied to productivity or profitability) and incentive payments (including commissions) that are paid at least annually to satisfy up to 10 percent of the salary test.  The DOL is also proposing to increase the exemption that applies to highly compensated employees.  Currently, salaried employees who earn at least $100,000/year in salary are exempt from overtime regardless of whether they satisfy the applicable duties test.  Under the proposed rule, the highly compensated employee salary threshold will increase to $147,414/year, meaning employees paid less than that threshold amount will be subject to a duties test or other exemption.  The proposed rule does not seek a change to any of the duties tests for the basic exemptions.

Savvy employer takeaways: Employers need to evaluate their payroll to identify salaried employees who meet the applicable duties test but may no longer be exempt and assess whether increasing the employee’s salary or making the employee overtime eligible makes more sense.  Employers also need to consider applicable state law, which may be more restrictive than the exemptions permitted under the FLSA.

Questions? Let me know.

The New Paid Sick Leave Law in New Jersey & Other Hot Topics Employers Need to Know

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Click here to RSVP.

On October 29th, New Jersey’s new paid sick leave law goes into effect requiring nearly all private-sector businesses to provide employees with paid sick time, regardless of the size of the business or the number of hours an employee works. Are you in compliance? Most businesses are not and will need to adopt new policies.

Get a head start on this and join me and my colleague on Thursday, October 18th for a seminar analyzing and discussing the impact of the new sick leave law changes and what it means for NJ employers.

Other hot topics in employment law will include:

  • Medical marijuana in the workplace
  • New Jersey’s Equal Pay Act
  • Update on disability and mental health in New Jersey
  • Wage & hour laws and the pitfalls of an independent contractor

Speakers:

  • Adam E. Gersh, Labor & Employment Shareholder, Flaster Greenberg PC
  • Jeremy Cole, Labor & Employment Attorney, Flaster Greenberg PC

Date & Time:

Thursday, October 18, 2018
Registration and Networking:  8:00 – 8:30 a.m.
Seminar and Q&A: 8:30 – 9:30 a.m.

Location:

Flaster Greenberg PC’s Cherry Hill Office
1810 Chapel Ave West
Cherry Hill, NJ 08002

Credits:

Attorneys: 1 substantive PA CLE credit (NJ reciprocal)
Accountants: 1 PA & NJ CPE credit
Human Resource Professionals: 1 HRCI credit

Facebook Live:

Not able to make it in person? You’ll still be able to attend the presentation via Facebook Live! Tune into FG’s Facebook Page on October 18th at 8:30 a.m. to hear from our panelists as they navigate through the new law and help you identify the strategy that best suits your business.

*Please note that attendees must be present in-person to be eligible for Pennsylvania and New Jersey CPE, HRCI and substantive Pennsylvania CLE credit.

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