By: Marc Furman and Marc B. Cytryn
Now that we have ushered in the New Year, it is the perfect time to take a look back at how Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey legislature brought about a multitude of changes for New Jersey employers in 2019. In the last year alone, New Jersey enacted legislation that not only increased the state-wide minimum wage and increased penalties for wage violations, but the legislature also made substantial revisions to New Jersey’s family leave laws and limited employers’ ability to confidentially settle lawsuits arising under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The following is a brief summary of these changes:
- On February 4, 2019, Governor Murphy signed into law Bill A-15, which gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour by January 1, 2024. For most employers, the minimum wage first increased to $10 per hour on July 1, 2019, and then again to $11 per hour just a few days ago, on January 1, 2020. The minimum wage will continue to increase by $1 per year until reaching $15 per hour in 2024. Notably, the new legislation includes some exceptions for employers with five or fewer employees, tipped employees, seasonal workers, and employees engaged in farm labor.
- Effective February 19, 2019, New Jersey’s family leave laws were expanded under the Family Leave Act (FLA) and the Security and Financial Empowerment Act (SAFE Act), as were the paid benefits available under the State’s Family Leave Insurance (FLI). Now, employers with 30 employees (instead of 50) must comply with the FLA and its leave requirements. The FLA now also defines the term “family member” to include any individual related by blood and any individual with a close association equivalent to a family member. Additionally, effective July 1, 2020, employees will be able to receive up to 12 weeks or FLI paid benefits (instead of just six), and the weekly benefit amount will increase from 66.60% to 85.00% of an employee’s average weekly wage, up to a maximum benefit of approximately $860.
- Effective March 1, 2019, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) was amended to expressly prohibit any provision in either an employment contract or a settlement agreement, which has the purpose or effect of concealing details related to claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation as against the New Jersey’s public policy. The amended LAD also strictly prohibits retaliation against any individual who refuses to enter into an agreement that contains a waiver or non-disclosure provision.
- As of July 2, 2019, New Jersey employers are no longer permitted to take an adverse employment action (such as terminating, refusing to hire, or demoting an employee) against any individual who has a valid authorization from a healthcare provider to use medical marijuana and is registered with the State’s Cannibals Regulatory Commission, based solely on that individual’s status as a registered medical marijuana user. Furthermore, employers are now required to provide written notice to employees of their right to provide an explanation regarding any positive drug test results.
- On August 6, 2019, New Jersey enacted the New Jersey Wage Theft Act, which now provides for liquidated damages equal to 200% of any unpaid wages, and increases the statute of limitations for filing a wage payment claim from two to six years. The amendment even criminalizes certain wage and hour violations, including “patterns of wage nonpayment,” and increases the damages, penalties, and fines imposed for such violations.
- Effective January 1, 2020, New Jersey employers are no longer permitted to ask job applicants questions about their salary history or require that a job applicant’s salary history meet any given threshold in order to be considered for employment. It is important to note that the new ban on questions regarding salary history also brings with it a private cause of action and civil penalties for violations.
If you have any questions about the above changes to New Jersey law or how your business can achieve compliance, please contact Marc Furman, Marc Cytryn, or the Cohen Seglias attorney with whom you work.