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New Jersey Employment Law Blog

Drunk Driving Campaign Raises Awareness

A new initiative seeks to raise awareness about drunk driving this week. From August 21 to September 7, New Jersey drivers in some areas will go through sobriety checkpoints and roving patrols. This is part of the national campaign to "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over." The goal is to reinforce the message that drinking and driving is highly dangerous and those convicted will receive harsh punishment.

According to the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, 27 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in 2013 involved alcohol impairment. Drunk driving causes roughly 10,000 deaths nationwide each year. Crashes involving drunk drivers cause approximately $50 billion in costs every year. The problem has persisted despite years of effort to spread the message of just how deadly drinking and driving can be. 

Whistleblower Law Extended In New Jersey

The public has an interest in finding out when businesses are breaking the law. The people most likely to have that information are employers of the company in question. In an effort to encourage public disclosure of wrongdoing, New Jersey passed the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). CEPA is sometimes referred to as a whistleblower statute. Blowing the whistle on your employer was, prior to the passage of CEPA, a good way to end up fired. The statute works to protect workers by preventing employers from taking adverse job actions, including wrongful discharge, termination, demotion or transfer in retaliation. CEPA gives workers the right to recover damages, including attorney's fees, if the company does retaliate. Until recently, however, it was not clear whether CEPA extended to workers whose job duties included identifying health and safety risks.

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling from the appeals court that watchdog employees were covered under CEPA like any other worker. The employer in question, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, had argued that watchdog employees were not "employees" under the terms of CEPA. The appeals court and New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed. 

Child Passenger Safety In New Jersey

As of September 1, the State of New Jersey will have a new set of laws in place to improve the safety of young passengers. The new rules make several changes that parents and guardians should be aware of when transporting young people by car. The new laws are intended to bring New Jersey into line with the latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding child safety.

The first thing to be aware of is that the manufacturer's guidelines of your child safety equipment no longer trump New Jersey law. Even if you follow the guidelines on the product, you can still be subjected to a $75 fine. It is possible that you will have to ignore product guidelines to comply with New Jersey law.

Charting The Pay Gap

There are many ways in which people of a certain ilk try to deny or defend the wage gap between men and women. Some claim there is no gap, ignoring substantial research that it is a real problem. Some claim it is a matter of personal decisions, as though women choose to earn less to do the same work as men. Another claim that has gained popularity is that the gap all but disappears if we ignore the very top levels, with the implication being that the problem will correct itself sometime in the future when more of these positions are filled by women. Ignoring the fact that there is no valid reason so few females occupy those positions now, this hides the fact that the wage gap is present from the earliest point in our careers. It may be smaller, but that small gap widens over time.

Economists for the New York Federal Reserve conducted research showing that, among recent graduates, men get 3 percent more than women. Educated workers between the ages of 22 and 27, likewise, show a relatively small pay gap between women and men, with some industries even eliminating the gap altogether. The small-size of that injustice does not last, however. 

New Jersey Employment and Civil Rights Trial Lawyer Discusses South Carolina, The Confederate Flag and The Shooting in a Black Church

I've been waiting for this moment - the moment I'm watching on CNN right now, on July 9th - to comment on this trinity of issues. Obviously, they're all intimately related with one another, but more importantly, they're all about our changing national character.

In my blogs over the years, I've touched on lots of things, some of them a bit closer to the "legalities" of my civil rights and employment practice for working people in New Jersey, and some of them a bit more "esoteric" and abstract. Obviously, the issue of the South Carolina confederate flag, the shooting in a black church and the moving eulogy by President Obama are certainly at the crux of any conversation about civil rights in America. Any conversation about civil rights in America is intimately connected with my practice, my politics and my proclivities as a civil rights trial lawyer.

But more, as those of you who faithfully followed my blogs over the years already know, I like to think about a better world than the one we have. In a recent blog celebrating the Supreme Court of the United States' decision legitimizing same sex marriage as the law of the land, I talked about the fact that as a Star Trek fan from childhood, I dream of a better world in which issues of race, ethnicity, national origin and gender are no longer "drivers" for how human beings relate to one another. 

Kentucky Sheriff's Officer Handcuffed Disabled Boy; ACLU Files Suit

New Jersey Civil Rights and School Harassment Trial Lawyer Discusses Kentucky Sheriff's Officer Handcuffing Disabled Boy and ACLU Suit 

In 2014, a Kentucky sheriff's deputy put handcuffs on two elementary school students with disabilities for "misbehaving" in school. A video is making the rounds today, showing one of the boys crying in pain, facing the corner. The boy is small and slight, the sheriff officer is portly and tall.

This was disgusting. I say this fully aware of the fact that some children, including those with disabilities, can become violent or physical enough that some type of restraint is needed. Yet part of the analysis of how to respond to any situation requires some degree of discretion and common sense.

Look at the video. The size of the officer and the size of the kid have to be taken into consideration when the sheriff's officer makes the disgusting decision that he did.

Safety, Etiquette And The Left Lane

The left lane is for passing. It's a relatively simple idea that can help traffic move more quickly and safely. Proper lane discipline is not just about etiquette, though there is a component of that. Drivers who clog up the left lane cause congestion and congestion causes accidents. New Jersey is one of many states that have passed legislation increasing the penalties for holding up other motorists by cruising in the left lane.

Thousands of New Jersey drivers received traffic citations for left lane violations last year. In addition to a potential fine of hundreds of dollars, the violations can cost you two points on your license. Despite the enforcement, anyone who has driven on a New Jersey highway recently has likely seen multiple drivers occupying the left lane while not in the act of passing another vehicle. 

Wage and Hour and Overtime Rights Lawyer Discusses New Employment Rights

As long as the Fair Labors Standards Act (FLSA) has been in existence, American corporations, large and small, have looked for ways to avoid paying overtime to employees who are otherwise entitled to receive it. One of the most common tricks used by business is to "misclassify" and a worker who would otherwise be entitled to overtime as "exempt" from the overtime requirements of the law. "Exemption" is dependent upon the nature of the work performed by the employee and whether or not the employee is "salaried." The salary threshold is extraordinarily modest, only $450 per week, or $23,660.00 per year. At such a low threshold, it has been very easy for employers who don't want to do the right thing to pay an employee "salary" and then declare that employee exempt. This puts the employee in the position of having to prove that, even though they are salaried, the day to day work that they perform is not within one of the recognized exemptions to the law. It puts the employee in the position of having to file a lawsuit and carry the burden of proof on misclassification.

Finally, the Department of Labor seems to have recognized just how absurd the salary threshold of $450 per week is. The Department of Labor has just announced a proposed change to the rules, which would increase the salary threshold for exemption from the overtime requirements of the fair labor standards act from $455 per week to approximately $970 per week. It will be much more difficult for employers to play the game of paying someone a salary and then declaring them exempt when the salary has to be $50,000.00 per year instead of only 20s. 

The Response To School Bullying

The experience of being bullied or of parenting a child who is being bullied is not easy. Every situation is unique, but there are things that should always be done when bullying occurs. Schools cannot ignore bullying. Neither can they afford to respond in an uneven, unpredictable or unreliable way. School boards and administrators are accountable for the action or inaction they take to prevent or address bullying behavior. Despite the necessity of an effective bullying and harassment policy, parents and victims of bullying receive a wide range of responses when they report unacceptable conduct.

The New Jersey anti-bullying law requires schools to record events of harassment, intimidation or bullying. That said, it is important for parents to document incidents of bullying as well. It is not unusual for students engaged in bullying to accuse their victims of similar offenses. The victims of bullying may even end up being punished based on accusations that they were responsible for confrontations. Similarly, parents of victims are discouraged from directly contacting the parents of bullying children. Your desire to protect your child is laudable, but you do not want to be accused of harassment based on your attempts to protect your child. 

Automaker Lobbyists 1, Safety 0

It was probably a foregone conclusion once the Senate came under Republican control in January. The push for auto safety reforms was never likely to succeed once the dollars started flying around Capitol Hill. The latest piece of legislation designed to protect auto consumers hit a major snag last week when a Senate committee struck down several measures designed to protect the people from automotive businesses. The push to allow criminal sanctions against auto executives who hide deadly auto defects was struck down. In addition, a measure that would have prevented used car dealers from selling cars with unrepaired recalls was also defeated. The news was largely bad for anyone without a major financial stake in protecting auto industry leaders.

Among the few measures that the Senate committee did approve was an increase on the maximum civil penalty that can be assessed against automakers that do not cooperate with safety authorities. The current figure, $35 million, has been derided as a drop in the bucket for automakers. General Motors reported a net income of $1.38 billion in the third quarter of 2014, alone. The increased penalty would allow for a $70 million dollar penalty. That figure is still obviously a pittance to automakers and will represent no deterrent whatsoever in keeping them accountable.