We spend a significant percentage of our waking hours working. It represents an essential element of our sense of self-worth and security. When the work environment is positive and supportive, it means far more than a paycheck. Colleagues become part of your community, and the pride you take in what you do makes a significant contribution to your self-confidence and self-esteem. Unfortunately, a positive environment is not promised and there are far too many situations where people find themselves fearful, uncomfortable, maligned, and mistreated. If your employer has created or permitted these types of conditions in a way that violates federal or state employment laws, it is time for you to contact an employment lawyer.
Employment lawyers are dedicated to ensuring that workers are treated fairly and to helping them fight for their rights when they are not. As an employee, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination on the part of your employer. Contacting an employment attorney will level the playing field. An experienced and knowledgeable professional will inform you of your rights, give you clarity about your options, and help you navigate the legal process with confidence.
Employment lawyers represent employees in many types of disputes, including:
• Wrongful Termination
• Employment Discrimination
• Employment Agreements
• Unemployment Compensation
Nobody wants to lose their job, and this is especially true when you believe that the termination was illegal. Employers have the right to fire an employee at will. There is no requirement that the termination needs to be fair or have a good reason. However, there are circumstances under which a termination is illegal under the law even if you are an at-will employee, and an employment lawyer will examine the specific circumstances of your termination to determine whether your termination falls into any of those categories, including, but not limited to:
• Retaliation – In the state of New Jersey, employees who complain about discrimination — whether against others or against themselves — are protected from being terminated as retaliation. There are several specific laws that bar termination with this intent: the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD); New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA); the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (NJCRA); the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA); and New Jersey common law. Each of these laws has its own specific act for which retaliation is forbidden — for example FMLA and NJFLA protect employees from being fired for having taken leave under their rules. These laws also prohibit demotions, transfers, salary cuts, disciplinary actions, harassment, bullying and the like that are retaliatory.
• Whistleblower Protection – Employees may not be terminated as a result of activities that involve either reporting activities that they believe to be in violation of public policy or the law, or for refusing to participate in those activities. Both of these are described as whistleblowing activities, and New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) specifically forbids termination for being a whistleblower. It also prohibits demotions, transfers, salary cuts, disciplinary actions, harassment, bullying and the like that are retaliatory.
There are specific actions that the state of New Jersey defines as unlawful harassment or retaliation under the law. Harassment can be unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on the employee’s race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other protected trait, while retaliation can include wrongful termination, demotion, transfers, salary cuts, or disciplinary actions in response to an employee’s whistleblower activities.
New Jersey’s Conscientious Employment Protection Act is one of the best and most comprehensive whistleblower protection statutes in the country. The law protects employees who object to, refuse to participate in, or blow the whistle on activities that they reasonably believe are unlawful or fraudulent. This includes unlawful actions by the employer and even by co-workers. If you complain about such activity, make sure to document the complaint.
The state of New Jersey leads the nation in passing and upholding laws prohibiting discrimination based on a number of protected statuses. These laws include the New Jersey Civil Union Act, which legally recognizes same sex civil unions; the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex, pregnancy status, familiar status, marital/civil union status, religion, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information, liability for military service, and mental or physical disability (including perceived disability, and AIDS and HIV status); the New Jersey Equal Pay Act (NJEPA) which prohibits employers from basing pay rate or method on an employee’s sex; and the New Jersey Smoking Law, which prohibits employers from refusing to hire or discriminating against employees or job applicants based on their status as a smoker or nonsmoker unless it pertains to a job’s requirements.
Discrimination can be both subtle and overt. Some examples of discriminatory acts targeting different protected groups include:
• Race, National Origin and Ancestry Discrimination – Violations may include harassment, denial of positions due to accent, English-only rules, use of discriminatory words or imagery, criminal background checks not conducted on other employees, unfair entrance examinations, unjust discipline, refusal to hire or promote or demotion or wrongful termination based on race, national origin or ancestry.
• Sex/Gender Discrimination – Violations may include sexual harassment, failure to hire or promote as a result of pregnancy or parental needs, demotion as a result of sex, gender, or pregnancy/parenting needs, retaliation for having taken FMLA leave, use of discriminatory or harassing words or imagery, or paying a different wage based on gender.
• Disability Discrimination – Violations may include refusal to hire or promote or wrongful termination based on disability, demotion because of disability, refusal to provide reasonable accommodations, harassment on the basis of disability, and refusal to provide proper leave or retaliation for taking proper leave. In New Jersey, employers are required to provide leave as a reasonable accommodation, even if it exceeds the 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave, so long as such leave does not cause an undue hardship to the employer. New Jersey employers are also required to accommodation the private use of medical marijuana, but not in the workplace.
• Religious Discrimination – Violations may include failure to hire or promote based on religion, refusal to provide reasonable accommodation such as days or time off for religious observances or wearing articles of clothing in accordance with the dictates of their religion, harassment on the basis of their religion. Protection of religious beliefs extends to persons who refuse to accept vaccinations based upon their sincere religious beliefs.
• Equal Pay – The New Jersey Equal Pay Act, which took effect on July 1, 2018, is one the most powerful equal pay laws in the country. Employers who pay certain employees less based upon gender, race, or other protected classes may be responsible for up to 6 years of back pay, and those damages are tripled under the act. The act also prohibits employers from taking action against or prohibiting employees from discussing their salaries and wages with other.
Though employees are generally “at will,” many also sign employment contracts or have oral agreements regarding their employment including their salary or bonuses, the term of their employment, the benefits they will receive, or their job responsibilities. When an employer breaks any of the terms of that agreement or attempts to modify them without getting agreement from the employee, it may constitute a breach of contract. Employment agreements can also include restrictive language that effectively restricts the employee’s rights to seek employment after they separate from the employer. In both situations, an employment lawyer can help the employee with the legal guidance and representation that they need.
New Jersey law now forbids employers from forcing an employee, as a condition of employment, to waive any statutory right, including the right to file a lawsuit, the right to a jury trial, and the right to have a two year statute of limitations. Such agreements are now against public policy and unenforceable if signed after March 18, 2019. If you have signed such an agreement before that date, it may be enforceable, and you should have an attorney review the agreement. It is unlawful for an employer to fire or refuse to hire an employee for refusing to sign an agreement that waives statutory rights. This includes all agreements that force an employee to agree to arbitrate disputes rather than filing a lawsuit. If presented with such an agreement, you should contact an attorney before signing.
Each paycheck that employees receive includes notations about monies taken out to pay taxes and other required deductions, and one of these is a premium for unemployment insurance. Both employers and employees pay for unemployment insurance, yet when an employee applies for unemployment insurance compensation, employers sometimes become uncooperative because they do not want their insurance rates to increase. Fighting against an employer’s refusal to agree to unemployment compensation is complex, but an experienced employment attorney can help you navigate the process and boost your chances of getting the compensation that you need and deserve.
Getting the Help That You Need
Work is a crucial part of your life. If you believe that an employer is treating you in a way that violates the law, we are here to help. Contact Schorr Law today to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation. We will help you understand your rights, your options, and how we can help you achieve the best possible outcome.