Representing New Jersey Individuals In All Employment Law Matters
Cohn Lifland has decades of experience in handling all kinds of employment law matters on behalf of employees. For over 90 years, our attorneys have earned a solid reputation for diligent and effective legal representation and compassionate counsel for employees facing difficult and important legal issues arising from their employment. We pride ourselves on the personalized attention we offer our clients during stressful times.
Employees face a wide variety of issues, including: employment agreements; independent contractor agreements: confidentiality, non-compete and non-solicitation agreements; separation/severance agreements; whistleblower claims; wrongful retaliation and termination; sexual harassment; claims for discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination based on race, sex, age, disability, religion and other protected categories; hostile work environment; compensation issues such as unpaid overtime and minimum wage claims; and Family and Medical Leave Act and ERISA claims. Cohn Lifland helps employees understand, face and prevail against these and other legal issues affecting their livelihood. If you have an employment-related legal matter, contact us for a consultation.
Unlawful discrimination against employees violates both Federal and New Jersey laws. For example, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) makes it unlawful to subject people to differential treatment based on their race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex (including pregnancy), marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, mental or physical disability, perceived disability, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information, liability for military service, and AIDS and HIV status. If you have been the victim of discrimination because of one of these reasons, you have the right to seek compensation.
Sexual harassment can include unwelcome requests for sexual favors, sexual advances or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment occurs when submission to sexual demands is either expressly or implicitly a condition of getting a promotion, avoiding adverse employment action such as a demotion or unfavorable evaluation, or even just to keep a job. This is called “quid pro quo” harassment. It is unlawful for an employer or an employer’s agent to condition favorable treatment such as promotions, salary increases, or preferred assignments, on an employee’s acceptance of sexual advances or relations.
Sexual harassment can also take place in the form of a hostile work environment, such as when an employee is subjected to sexual, abusive, or offensive conduct because of his or her gender. If such conduct is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would consider the environment at work to be hostile or abusive, it can been considered unlawful.
Both federal employment laws and the NJLAD protect people from sexual discrimination and harassment in many different circumstances. If you have been the victim of sexual discrimination or harassment, there are legal options available to you to protect your rights.
NEW JERSEY EQUAL PAY ACT
An important amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) was enacted April 24, 2018, and goes into effect July 1, 2018. Called the “Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act” (“Equal Pay Act” or “Act”) this new law has important implications for employees and employers.
The Equal Pay Act requires equal pay for employees who are members of a protected class under the LAD. A “member of a protected class” means an employee who has one or more characteristics, including race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy, sex, gender identity or expression, disability or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual, or liability for service in the armed forces which are protected from discrimination under the LAD.
The Act makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because the employee is a member of a protected class by paying a rate of compensation, including benefits, which is less than the rate paid to employees not of the class for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility. The Act also prohibits an employer from reducing the rate of compensation of any employee in order to comply with the law.
Wage And Hour Law
Under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, employers are required to pay employees the minimum wage. Employers must also pay covered, non-exempt employees overtime pay of one-and-one-half times the employee’s regular hourly rate of pay for work in excess of 40 hours per work-week. Often, actions are filed as both collective and class action lawsuits under the under the FLSA and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law.
Wage and hour cases require careful analysis of the employee’s pay history to determine if he or she has suffered a violation of the minimum wage and overtime laws. If you have a claim for such a violation, you may be entitled to receive not only the unpaid wages and/or overtime, but an additional, equal, amount as liquidated damages, plus attorney’s fees.
Effective negotiation of the employment agreement is critical for both the employee and the employer, since it defines the parties’ obligations and rights. There are several important issues to address when negotiating an employment agreement besides the employee’s responsibilities, compensation and benefits such as medical, disability and life insurance, 401(k), bonuses, stock options and reimbursement for expenses. Is the employee terminable at will, or only for cause? If “for cause,” what grounds support termination? Will the employee be protected from liability for actions within the scope of his or her job?
Sometimes employment agreements will include restrictive covenants pertaining to confidentiality of employer information and trade secrets, and restriction on competition and solicitation of customers and fellow employees after the employment relationship ends, regardless of reason. Such post-employment limitations must be fully negotiated, understood and agreed upon before signing. Likewise, employment agreements increasingly contain mandatory confidential arbitration provisions that set forth dispute resolution procedures that preclude trial in courts of law before a judge and jury.
Therefore, management and executive level employees often decide to protect themselves by engaging the highly-skilled employment law attorneys at Cohn Lifland.
Generally, a whistleblower is an individual who exposes, or refuses to participate in, illegal or unethical activity. In New Jersey, such employees are protected from retaliation by the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), also known as the “Whistleblower Act.” CEPA prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee because the employee discloses, or threatens to disclose, to a supervisor or to an investigating public body any activity; policy or practice of the employer that the employee reasonably believes is in violation of a law. CEPA also protects an employee who objects to, or refuses to participate in, any activity, policy or practice that the employee reasonably believes violates the law or is incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning the public health, safety or welfare.
Whistleblower claims under CEPA are subject to a one-year statute of limitations, so an employee must act promptly or risk losing the right to bring a claim. Cohn Lifland’s attorneys are highly experienced in handling whistleblower actions and guiding employees in this complex area of law.
Wrongful termination, also called wrongful discharge, arises when an employee is fired in circumstances where the termination breaches a law or violates an employment contract. Even a ‘terminable at will’ employee (i.e., an employee without an employment contract who may be fired ‘at will’) is protected against termination to if the reason for termination is legally prohibited. Such legally prohibited reasons include:
- Discrimination in violation of both Federal and New Jersey laws, including the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), which prohibits unlawful termination based upon the employee’s race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex (including pregnancy), marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, mental or physical disability, perceived disability, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information, liability for military service, and AIDS and HIV status;
- Retaliation against an employee who is protected by the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) for exposing, or refusing to participate in, illegal or unethical activity;
- Retaliation against an employee who is protected by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law for reporting or complaining about minimum wage or overtime pay violations; and
- Termination in violation of an implied contract such as an employee handbook or other employment policy stating that an employee will be fired only for good cause or pursuant to a progressive discipline or other procedure.
Cohn Lifland has the experience, skill and proven ability to represent employees in all types of wrongful termination matters. If you have an employment-related legal matter, contact us online or call 201-845-9600 for a consultation. From our office in Saddle Brook, our lawyers help clients throughout northern New Jersey.