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New Jersey Employment Law Blog

Respecting Religion In The Workplace

The New Jersey State Law Against Discrimination requires employers to provide reasonable religious accommodation to workers. The U.S. Constitution and the New Jersey State Constitution both guarantee people the right to observe the religion of their choice. In the employment setting, religious accommodation is an acknowledgement that employees come from different faiths and should not be restricted from practicing their religion without good reason. Any sincerely held religious belief is entitled to, at the very least, a discussion of ways your employer can accommodate.

Religious accommodation is not an absolute right. Employers are not required to accommodate you in ways that would place an undue hardship on the business. Whether or not a particular practice can be accommodated, your employer is not entitled to denigrate or ridicule your beliefs. Discrimination and accommodation are related, but not identical. Likewise, the standard for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act is related but not identical the standard for religious accommodation. 

Retaliation Guidelines Under Review

According to Equal Employment Opportunity laws, retaliation is "when an employer unlawfully takes action against an individual in punishment for exercising rights protected by any of the EEO laws." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not handle all types of retaliation, but a significant percentage of the claims it handles are based on these allegations. EEOC data shows that 43 percent of the bias charges it handled for private sector employers were based on accusations of retaliation.

The EEOC is looking to make changes to the guidance it gives to employers and employees concerning retaliation and discrimination enforcement. It is currently asking for public input on the guidance it is proposing. Public commentary is welcome regarding things like what constitutes retaliation, what training should be provided to prevent or address retaliation and what are the best practices for addressing retaliation complaints. 

Gender Discrimination And Appearance Policies

Can you be fired for gaining a few pounds? According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, apparently the answer is yes. The issue arose based on the practice of an Atlantic City casino of firing cocktail waitresses if they gained more than 7 percent of their body weight. A group of "Borgata Babes" eventually tired of being embarrassed and harassed as part of regular weigh-ins and filed turned to the law to put a stop to the discrimination. Unfortunately, the practice was condoned by the court system based on the notion that the casino applies the rule to both male and female employees. That ignores the fact that there is no evidence that the men who work as bartenders are weighed as frequently, or even at all.

Whether or not the casino's policy is gender discrimination, and we believe it is, that does not mean that the women involved were not sexually harassed in violation of New Jersey law. Costello and Mains intends to pursue sexual harassment claims on behalf of women who were treated appallingly by their male bosses. It is no surprise that a policy like this would go hand in hand with a hostile working environment for women. 

Gender Discrimination Suit Against Princeton University Settled

The Employment, School Discrimination and Civil Rights trial law firm of Costello & Mains, LLC in Mt. Laurel, NJ is pleased to announce the settlement of litigation commenced against Princeton University which alleged that Princeton was discriminating on the basis of gender in its Summer wrestling program. The suit, filed on August 4, 2015 on behalf of high school wrestler Rebecca Pizuto by her father, Joseph, contended that Rebecca had attempted to attend a Summer wresting camp offered for Middle School and High School wrestlers. She was informed by the University that the program was not open to female wrestlers despite the fact that no such gender-based rule appeared anywhere on the University's Summer wrestling camp website. The lawsuit was filed pursuant to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination in Mercer County under docket number L-1760-15.

New Jersey Employment Trial Lawyer Wishes the American Association for Justice a Happy 70th Birthday

I'm a proud member of the American Association for Justice, an organization begun in 1946 when a group of 11 lawyers met in Oregon to form a new organization called the "National Association of Claimants' Compensation Attorneys." That organization became, in time, The American Trial Lawyers Association and, finally, The American Association for Justice. 2016 is the Association's 70th birthday.

AAJ's mission is a simple one. Train lawyers that represent individuals and working families in their fight for justice against financial oppression, negligence, unsafe products, malpractice, discrimination and fraud. Give them a place to gather and exchange ideas. Provide continuing legal education. Challenge attempts to subvert the laws and the civil justice process to tip the scales in favor of big corporations, banks, insurance companies, big business and special interest groups. Fight against any attempt to change the Rules of Court to benefit those interests. Fight against any attempt to deny people their right to a trial by jury in presenting their claims. 

Subcontracting And Employment Law Violations

There are valid business reasons for a company to hire another company to provide a workforce. A company whose labor needs may change quickly might prefer the ability to quickly scale up or scale down without it impacting payroll. Such arrangements can also help employees who are able to find steady work through temp agencies or other subcontractors. There are serious problems with subcontracting, however. It can be used as a tool to deny workers proper wages, including overtime benefits. It can shield bad actors from the legal consequences of their actions. The rise in popularity of these arrangements has naturally led to an increase in the abuse of workers. The Department of Labor' Wage and Hour Division has released new guidance regarding the acceptable use of subcontracted employees.

Joint employment relationships give rise to both the contracting company and the subcontracting company when it comes to worker rights. The subcontractor is not insulation against lawsuits over employment law violations. The relationship does not allow the contracting company to provide unsafe working conditions. It does not allow them to subject employees to harassment or abuse. It certainly does not allow them to pay workers less than the minimum wage or demand that they work overtime without getting paid for it. 

The Technology To Prevent Deadly Accidents

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its annual Most Wanted List of safety improvements for 2016. The list contains ten areas where the NTSB plans to focus its advocacy efforts in the new year. Each area of concern contains a number of recommendations for how transportation could be made safer. The 2016 list is heavy on recommendations involving safety technology.

Advocating for technology improvements is not new for the NTSB. The group frequently pushes for the adoption of new safety technology. In a press release announcing the new Most Wanted list, the NTSB commemorated a safety recommendation from 20 years ago regarding technology designed to stop rear-end collisions. The NTSB would like to see this and other technological solutions go from safety options to standard equipment on all new vehicles. 

Gender And Gender Identity Discrimination Guidelines

New York City is releasing new guidelines to help combat discrimination against people based on gender or gender identity. The New York City Human Rights Commission has put forth specific rules explaining just what amounts to discrimination. The rules cover discriminatory practices that often target gay and transgender people. The guidelines will apply to a large percentage of businesses, as well as to landlords and other employers.

Transgender people have been added to a number of antidiscrimination protections that did not originally name them, including in New York. The transgender community faces certain forms of discrimination that are covered in the new guidelines. The rules make it clear that individuals are entitled to the personal pronoun of their choice. An employer who refuses to honor your choice or ridicules you for your preference is violating antidiscrimination laws. 

New Auto Safety Rating Rules Considered

In the late 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program. Over time, the rating has gone from a novel invention to a vital factor in the way many consumers choose a new vehicle. The NHTSA has the power to push automakers to adopt new safety technology by making the technology necessary to achieve a top rating. After a difficult year in 2015, the NHTSA is considering a number of changes to the rating system, as well as other changes designed to help the agency protect and promote highway safety.

The most obvious change to the rating system being proposed by the NHTSA is the inclusion of half-star grading options. More grade options means consumers will have more information to distinguish one vehicle from another in terms of safety. The tests themselves would also change if the NHTSA gets its way. The group is pushing for crash avoidance, pedestrian detection and other safety features to be mandatory for automakers seeking a perfect safety rating. In addition, the NHTSA is looking to add a new test to study safety performance in collisions that occur at an angle. It is also considering changes to the test that determines how full frontal crashes impact passengers sitting in back seats. 

Employment Discrimination And Criminal Record

Employers are forbidden by state and federal laws to engage in a number of abusive or discriminatory behaviors. They cannot, for example, refuse to hire you or bully, abuse or intimidate you based on your race, gender, ethnicity, nation of origin, general identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability or age. Employers generally must comply with rules about minimum wage, overtime pay, family and medical leave and more. Unfortunately, that does not mean that employers must conduct themselves in a reasonable or caring manner. There are any number of common practices among employers that fly in the face of decency and logic. Among those are hiring practices that can turn a criminal record into a lifetime of poverty and dependency.

President Obama has helped put in place a policy where federal agencies would "ban the box" in hiring decisions. The box in question is the one where job applicants are asked if they have a criminal history. That box is often used to discard applications of perfectly qualified individuals based on, in many cases, old and unrelated issues. An 18-year-old who makes a mistake can be functionally banned from certain jobs even after decades of outstanding work.