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New Jersey Employment Law Blog

Discrimination And Abuse In Firefighting

A firefighter in Virginia was found dead after an apparent suicide this week. A note found near the body of the 32-year-old female suggested that the death was self-inflicted. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death found that she had been the target of cyberbullying by her fellow firefighters. The attacks were sexual in nature and fit a long-standing pattern of so-called "slut shaming" of women who chose to work as firefighters.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are around twice as many volunteer firefighters as paid career firefighters. The jobs are predominantly for local governments. The Cornell Institute for Women and Work reports that more than 96 percent of firefighters are male. That kind of disparity can easily give rise to the type of abuse and hostility found in this tragic situation. 

Distracted Driving Awareness And Enforcement

As part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, many police departments are stepping up efforts aimed at prevention. Information campaigns play a role in putting a stop to distracted driving, but enforcement also has a place. If drivers have no fear of being caught texting, tweeting or otherwise not paying attention, the behavior will likely continue despite growing awareness of the dangers it poses. While cell phone use is not the only form of distraction taking drivers' eyes off the road, it is one that has drawn substantial attention from lawmakers.

The fines for distracted driving might come as a surprise to many. A first offense of talking or texting on a hand-held wireless device can lead to a fine of as much as $400. A third offense can trigger an $800 fine, 3 points taken from your license and a 90-day suspension of that license. The use of a cell phone is not required to get a ticket for distracted driving, however. Police can cite drivers for careless driving if they see signs of distraction. 

The Profitability Of Discrimination

A number of Southern states have recently made a point to codify the right of individuals and businesses to discriminate against those who offend their religious sensibilities. These laws mirror earlier attempts to ban same-sex marriage and, before that, to ban things like desegregation and interracial marriage. In the past, corporate America would either have supported these laws or at the very least maintained silence. Lately, more and more companies have spoken out against these blatant attempts to discriminate.

While it would be wonderful to imagine a world where this represented the growth of decency, kindness and morality among business leaders, it is just as likely a response to the changing profitability of discrimination. In seeking the repeal of a North Carolina law forbidding municipalities from extending protection against discrimination beyond state guidelines, Bank of America declared the law "bad for our employees and bad for business." When a company can expect to lose quality employees and customers by discriminating or tolerating discrimination, it is more likely to act. 

Distracted Walking Could Become A Crime

Cell phones and cars are not a safe combination. Of course, that's true even when the cell phone is being used by someone crossing the street on foot, rather than driving a car. The ongoing fight to reduce the number of fatal pedestrian accidents has led one New Jersey assemblywoman to propose a bill banning the use of cell phones without hands-free devices while walking on public sidewalks. Under the bill, offenders would be subject to a fine of up to $50. Repeat offenders would face as much as 15 days in jail.

Other jurisdictions across the country have attempted to prevent pedestrians from walking while distracted, but as of yet none of the legislative efforts have been successful. The measure is unlikely to succeed here, either, but it may help bring attention to a growing problem. A survey of children between the ages of 13 and 18 found that 40 percent had been hit or nearly hit by a vehicle while walking. Of that 40 percent, nearly half were either listening to music, texting or talking on the phone. 

Pay Discrimination Follows Women Wherever They Go

One of the excuses used by many to ignore the problem of the wage gap between male and female workers was that the fields "preferred" by women simply paid less. If men chose to be doctors and women chose to be nurses, it was natural that men would be paid more. This was and is utter nonsense, of course. That viewpoint ignores the sexist double standards and barriers to entry that kept women out of these traditionally male occupations. It also obscures the simple reality that when men and women do the same work, in the same field, women still get paid less. New research is helping to accurately portray the ways in which women are discriminated against in employment.

The study, conducted at Cornell University, demonstrates that when women take on jobs that traditionally went to men, the pay for those jobs decreases. The work that was valued when men did it is suddenly devalued simply because women have entered the field. The research took into account the experience, education, skills, race and geography of the workers. All these things being equal, pay went down when women entered the field. 

Employee Rights Violated By Social Media Policy

Many employers believe they have unfettered rights to control their employees when it comes to social media. A Twitter or Facebook post that criticizes an employer can draw swift retribution. While employees are not able to say anything they like without consequences, there are protected topics. A social media policy that does not account for activities protected by federal law is not enforceable. An administrative judge recently ruled that the social media policy used by Chipotle was not allowed under federal law. The ruling followed several memoranda released by the National Labor Relations Board instructing employers how to avoid running afoul of the law in promoting a social media policy.

Employees have the right to discuss working conditions. That discussion can include criticism of wages, working conditions and other employment practices. The Tweet that inspired the Chipotle case specifically listed the wages earned by Chipotle employees. The Chipotle social media policy banned any social media statements that were disparaging or false. After the worker was fired, he launched a complaint with the help of the Pennsylvania Workers Organizing Committee. His complaint was upheld and the judge ordered Chipotle to pay him for lost wages. 

More Pedestrians Killed In 2015

Since 2005, fatal accidents involving pedestrians have been on the rise. While motor vehicle deaths were declining, people on foot were not so lucky. According to preliminary numbers for 2015, the trend continued. A recent report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association claims that pedestrian deaths in 2015 rose by 10 percent over the figures from 2014. While the numbers are still preliminary, it appears that pedestrian deaths will make up a greater percentage of traffic deaths than they have in a quarter century.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data concerning pedestrian deaths contains several important pieces of information. Roughly three out of every four fatal pedestrian accidents occur at night. Alcohol is found in the bloodstream of approximately one-third of fatal pedestrian accident victims. Drunk drivers are responsible for 15 percent of deadly pedestrian accidents. 

Harassment, Racism And Wage Violations At Restaurants

Minimum wage laws have mandated a certain level of remuneration for decades. Unfortunately, from the earliest incarnations of those laws, workers were entitled to a minimum gained through wages or through tips. The result is that in tipped occupations, employers are allowed to pay less, often substantially less, than in other fields. Restaurant workers in tipped positions feel the brunt of this in several ways. Some people believe that it is past time to end the tipping exception and maintain one minimum wage for all employees. Several states have already enacted laws to do this.

The law requires employers to make sure that employees are paid at least the minimum wage. If tips are insufficient to cover the difference, employers are supposed to pay the rest. In reality, many employers do not take the necessary steps to make up the difference. The Department of Labor says that there is an 84 percent violation rate when it comes to employers making sure tip earners get at least the full minimum wage. 

Employees, Not Independent Contractors

Among the many methods used by businesses to cheat workers is that of misclassification. By calling a worker an independent contractor, rather than an employee, companies can avoid a host of legal responsibilities, including the need to provide a safe workplace, pay proper wages and cover things like unemployment and worker's compensation. Misclassifying workers has grown alongside the practice of legitimately using contractors to provide labor. It is a sign that many employers are happy to cut costs at the expense of the communities they serve, even if doing so endangers workers and violates the law.

An Administrative Law Judge with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently ruled that a Connecticut construction company has misclassified a number of employees as independent contractors. The Judge levied fines against the company for violations of workplace safety standards. A Regional Administrator with OSHA supported the finding, noting that, "Employers have a fundamental responsibility to their employees, to provide them with a safe and healthful workplace." 

New Jersey Trial Attorney Practicing In Transgender Rights Discusses Transgender Access To Bathrooms

The New Transgendered Battleground: Bathrooms?

The forces of homophobia, bigotry (a.k.a "religious freedom") lost the war on equal marriage. Not that they know when to admit they're wrong. Nope. Not when you know god's on your side. So having lost that battle to common sense, fairness and justice, they're now turning their attention to attacking young transgender people. The subject of the attack? The great "crisis" to which they call their banners to war?

Where one poops and pees.

Recently, The United States Department of Education warned public schools that Title IX, passed in the 1970's, makes it illegal to deny transgender students in public schools access to the facilities of their gender identity.

In states with large "conservative" populations - sorry, I meant to say "fools and cowards" - there's been a new movement to scream over this latest "outrage" and "attack" on "religious freedom."