As the summer comes to a close, I finally have some breathing room to talk about what's right, and what's wrong, with employment law in New Jersey today.
First of all, here's what's wrong.
Right now, the economy's in trouble. Things are slugging along.
Politicians know this and are sensitive to this. Therefore, anything that sounds " good" for business, no matter how unfair and unjust, is going to get a more ready ear nowadays than otherwise.
The "right wing," which of course includes banking, insurance, corporate, business and socially conservative interests, always, like any oppressor, seizes upon times of trouble, uncertainty or fear to pass its agenda. In New Jersey, and nationally, the agenda of "the right" includes restricting access to the Courts for every day human beings, working people and their families, while preserving access to the Courts for corporations and for the wealthy.
Right now, New Jersey legislators have to be especially on guard against whispers in their ear about how it would "please" "constituencies" to "shore up" the economy by passing anti-worker, anti-employment rights and other "take away" legislation.
Of course, taking away the rights of workers does not drive the economy nor does it really make things better for businesses, except that it makes businesses more willing and able to get away with hurting people without being held accountable.
It's disgusting, dishonest and cynical for the right wing to do these things when they do, but as long as the workers of this state let them get away with it, why shouldn't they keep trying?
Now is the time, therefore, to be especially on guard. Write your legislators and let them know that you don't want restrictions of your rights as workers. You don't want remedies for discrimination, harassment and violations of your civil rights taken away from you simply because by allowing businesses to get away with hurting you, somehow, the economy is going to get better.
Fight the right. Don't let them try to convince you that hurting working people and their families in the Courts is a way to make the economy better. Putting more money in the pockets of fat corporate cats is never the way to make the economy better.
Here's what else is wrong.
Every day, workers in this state are constantly bullied and harassed in the workplace, without there being a component or feature of that harassment that would make that bullying or harassment actionable under our Law Against Discrimination. Approximately 90% of the people that contact our office about bullying, intimidation and abuse in the workplace can't be helped because the bullying is not "vectored" under the LAD.
What this basically means is that if the bullying isn't gender based, age based, disability based, race based, religiously based, etc., then there's nothing we can do to help them.
People are so shocked when they call and get this answer. Sometimes they' re even angry at us, as if we have control over what the legislature passes and doesn't pass. We tell them that we hope that the Workplace Anti-Bullying Law, which has been before the legislature for some time, will be passed, but unfortunately, that's perceived as "anti-business" because it holds wrongdoers accountable. And, of course, now is not a great time to hold wrongdoers accountable, goes the conventional thinking.
So just understand that "unfair" doesn't mean "illegal." Just because someone does you wrong or does you dirty or does you inconsistently or dishonestly, doesn't mean you have a resort to Court. As it is, your rights are pretty severely restricted in New Jersey and if the right has its way, rights will become more restricted over the coming months or years, especially under a conservative governor, who seems to put the interests of his moneyed friends above the interests of working people and their families. If legislators without courage don't stand up to those efforts, regardless of what party they are affiliated with, then you stand to lose ground in your battle to protect your civil and workplace rights.
Did I mention what was right?
What was right is that we still seem to have a relatively independent judiciary, although our Governor has begun to erode that independence, threatening to not re-appoint judges who do not agree with his conservative agenda. We still have pretty good anti-harassment, discrimination and whistle blower retaliation laws in this state for now. And we still have jury access for now.
But beware of concepts like "mandatory arbitration," of "tort reform" and of other concepts that, in pure Orwellian fashion, are meant to seem like a good thing but are really an awful thing. Those things restrict your rights and those things prevent your access to the Courts. Once your rights have been sufficiently restricted and your access to the Courts sufficiently impaired, businesses will have no reason to do the right thing ever and you'll be left holding the stick.
Every now and then in this blog, I warn you that that threat never ends and the right is always waiting for its chance. Be careful and be wise and don't let them fool you.
No one said the Journey to Justice was easy.