Tag Archives: flaster greenberg

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.

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

AEG.JSC Sick Leave Law Seminar - LinkedIn 1200x627

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.

Employment Law Myth Busters – The “Unenforceable” Non-Compete

Man is signing Non compete agreementNon-compete and other restrictive covenants are commonly used by employers in many industries to protect their trade secrets and legitimate business interests.  While employees may be willing to sign them when they take a new position, they are often frustrated by them when it comes time to look for a new job. Some employees take to Google to see if their agreement is enforceable.  What they find on Google often provides them with false confidence that their non-compete or other restrictive covenant is unenforceable, but relying on Google research in the complicated, fact-sensitive legal morass of non-compete agreements is risky business.  True, a Google search can turn up numerous court opinions that express the view that non-competes are viewed unfavorably by courts as anti-competitive restraints on trade and, as such, are narrowly construed and enforced only to the extent that they protect a legitimate business interest of an employer.  However, those cases may or may not be useful in deciding whether your restrictive covenant is likely to be enforced. First, the law governing non-competition agreements varies from state to state. Thus, an opinion by a court in California applying California law (which bars enforcement of restrictive covenants except under specific, narrow circumstances), for example, is of little help in assessing whether a court in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, where non-competes are routinely enforced, is likely to enforce a restrictive covenant under that state’s laws. Making the analysis even more complicated, courts decide whether to enforce restrictive covenants based upon a thorough review of the specific language used in the agreement; even slight variations in the language of the agreement can lead to vastly different results. In addition, because they are viewed as anti-competitive, a court will generally enforce one only if it is well drafted so that its restrictions narrowly target the business interests at issue and nothing more.  The finer points of enforcing restrictive covenants, such as non-competes, are too detailed to address here, but employees with employment agreements that contain restrictive covenants and businesses that are hiring employees subject to them should not rely on Google to assess their enforceability or their liability for a breach.

Savvy employer takeaways: Employers should have an experienced employment lawyer evaluate the enforceability of their employees’ post-employment restrictions and the enforceability of post-employment restrictions by which prospective employees may be bound.  Employers should also require candidates to disclose whether they are subject to any restrictive covenants before offering them employment. 

Questions? Let me know.

Fast Food Chain Turns $626 Loss Into Nearly $8 Million

Chipotle Mexican Grill

When Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. fired store manager Jeanette Ortiz, accusing her of stealing $626 in cash from the safe, it could never have expected its minimal theft loss to balloon into a nearly $8 million jury verdict against if for wrongful termination of Ortiz. Even worse, an assessment of potential punitive damages against Chipotle in that case is still pending.  Nevertheless, according to an article in the Fresno Bee, jurors awarded Ortiz nearly $8 million after finding that Chipotle had wrongfully terminated her.  According to Ortiz, she was innocent of theft and was set up in retaliation for filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits due to a work-related wrist injury.  The article reported Chipotle had video of the theft but refused to show it to Ortiz and eventually taped over the evidence.  Apparently, Chipotle failed to preserve text messages and other written notes about the firing as well. Although the article does not elaborate, it is quite likely the jury reached an adverse inference that the missing evidence would have been helpful to Ortiz in proving her case.

Savvy employer takeaways: While it is impossible to know for sure how much weight the missing evidence had on the jury’s decision, employers are wise to preserve all evidence relating to employee misconduct to avoid even an appearance of wrongdoing. As in politics, although the original offense is bad enough, the ensuing cover-up is always worse.

Questions? Let me know.

The Department of Labor Goes to Church – Tips for Employers with Charitable Components

Adam Gersh Provides Tips for Employers with Charitable ComponentsThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit sided with a church operating the Lord’s Buffet and against the Department of Labor (“DOL”) in a case testing the reach of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). In Acosta v. Cathedral Buffet, Inc., the appellate court reversed a trial court ruling and held that volunteers who staffed a church-operated buffet are not employees and the Grace Cathedral Church did not run afoul of the FLSA by failing to pay the volunteers minimum wage.  The DOL claimed the church and its televangelist pastor illegally used unpaid labor by staffing its buffet with volunteers from the congregation.  In this case, the church operated the buffet restaurant for a religious purpose: to allow church members to proselytize to patrons.  Its operations relied heavily on church volunteers who worked alongside paid employees performing the same work. While the work performed was comparable to that of an employee, the Sixth Circuit held the DOL overstepped the bounds of the FLSA by applying it to the volunteer workforce.  In part, the Court’s decision relied on a determination that the volunteers had no expectation of payment and were not economically reliant on the work of the church.  

Savvy employer takeaways: Employers with charitable missions and those who support charities must be careful to delineate work from volunteer activities to avoid claims that the volunteers should have been paid for their activities.

Questions? Let me know.

 

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