Welcome Pennsylvania and New Jersey employers.

Settle in and read on for easy-to-navigate, clear and concise summaries of the employment-law landscape in PA and NJ. Plus, we highlight the latest legal trends and changes in the law. You can even improve the way you and your employees conduct business with our featured guest commentary and insights from other management-side employment lawyers and human resources professionals.

This isn't your average blog; this is The Employer Handbook. Read it cover to cover.

November 7, 2013

NJ votes to increase minimum wage to $8.25

Thumbnail image for nj1.jpgOn Election Day, NJ voters approved a constitutional amendment increasing the state's minimum wage by $1, from $7.25 to $8.25. The new wage rate will take effect on January 1, and future increases will be tied to inflation.

Governor Chris Christie, who was re-elected on Tuesday had opposed the increase, claiming that the state's economy would have a difficult time withstanding the increase.

New Jersey becomes the 20th state to establish a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum of $7.25.

Estimates suggest that the increase will affect about 400,000 NJ families. Hopefully, the wage hike does not affect hiring, especially in small businesses.

NJ business will want to be sure that, come January 1, they are not only paying out the proper minimum wage, but also accurately calculating overtime when minimum-wage employees work more than 40 hours in a workweek, lest they wish to find themselves in hot water with the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

November 6, 2013

No pants in the office leads to sexual harassment claims, you guys.

pantsdown.JPGi·ro·ny (noun)
1. the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.
"The irony of this blog post is that I am typing it with no pants."

Look folks, in all seriousness ***waits patiently while you napalm your brains***, I was reading this case last night, which even by my scorched-employment-lawyer prurient standards strikes me as shocking. Sure, I could restate all of the tawdry facts in this post to transparently boost my SEO. Instead, I'll just sum it up in with a single paragraph from the opinion:

On May 18, 2012, the sales team played a mix of music containing sexually explicit lyrics. One co-worker "ripped off his pants and strutted around the office in his peach colored briefs. When [Plaintiff] implored him to put his pants back on, [the co-worker] replied 'put that in your lawsuit.'"

So, she did. And, she also included the semen on the office bathroom sink.

(Ok, a touch gratuitous...)

Look folks, if you want a sure-fire way to end up at trial staring down the barrel of a sexual harassment claim with punitive damages at stake, read this opinion and do exactly what the employer-defendant did, right down to describing the work atmosphere as "good for morale and 'created a fun sales environment.'"

Then call me. And we'll chat about large retainers and such.

November 5, 2013

Senate on the brink of approving bill to improve LGBT workplace rights

Thumbnail image for CapitolHill.jpg

Earlier this week, I blogged about Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) promising that the Senate would take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Yesterday, the Senate obtained enough support to put ENDA to a full vote. Every Senate Democrat agreed to press forward. And even some Republicans helped get the bill to cloture, most notably conservatives Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who announced on Monday that he would back ENDA. With 60 members of the Senate supporting ENDA, the matter is ripe for a vote.

However, while it appear likely at ENDA will make it through the Senate, passage in the House is another story. Concerned with the impact ENDA may have on American businesses, House Majority Leader John Boehner reconfirmed yesterday that he would oppose the bill.

President Obama, in a blog post on the Huffington Post, reaffirmed his support for ENDA. And the White House officially called for passage of ENDA on Monday.

Although the road for ENDA to become law remains rocky, it's worth noting that 93% of Fortune 100 companies include sexual orientation and 82% include gender identity in their corporate nondiscrimination policies. Nearly 200 municipalities also have similar laws in place.

November 4, 2013

"My fake eye was falling out of its socket," and 12 other wild missed-work excuses

nickfoles.jpgHonestly, I was ready to call in sick and use "Bunkered in for the Apocalypse" as my excuse.

I had no other explanation after Nick Foles passed for seven touchdowns yesterday. Seriously, weren't you at least a bit concerned?

Yep, CareerBuilder's annual list of "Most Outrageous Excuses Workers Have Given When Calling in Sick" is back. "Employee's sobriety tool wouldn't allow the car to start" topped last year's list.

Find out what made the Top 13 this year, after the jump...

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Continue reading ""My fake eye was falling out of its socket," and 12 other wild missed-work excuses" »

November 1, 2013

FACT OR FICTION: You can ban employees from consuming alcohol -- even off the clock.

Fact or Fiction?That's right folks. It's time for another edition of "Fact or Fiction" a/k/a "Quick Answers to Quick Questions" a/k/a QATQQ f/k/a "I don't feel like writing a long blog post."

If you operate a business in PA, NJ, DE or the USVI, then the answer is yes. This is true -- even if the ban extends to alcohol consumption off the job.

So says the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in this opinion from earlier this week, where an alcoholic employee, who had previously checked himself in to rehab, had violated the terms of a subsequent return-to-work agreement with his employer never to consume alcohol again.

The employee claimed that the agreement violated the Americans with Disabilities Act's ADA's prohibition of "qualification standards, employment tests or other selection criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability." The court; however, disagreed:

As numerous courts have recognized, employers do not violate the ADA merely by entering into return-to-work agreements that impose employment conditions different from those of other employees. Indeed, several of our sister circuits have explicitly endorsed agreements that bar an employee from consuming alcohol--whether at the workplace or otherwise...Although Ostrowski was subject to different standards than other Con-way employees who did not sign an RWA, this difference results from the terms of his agreement rather than disability discrimination.

Ultimately, the plaintiff could not show how the ban on booze singled him out because of his alleged disability (alcoholism) versus regulating his conduct (drinking alcohol).

So, the answer to today's question -- at least in the Third Circuit -- is FACT.

October 31, 2013

The Boston Red Sox are the 2013 World Series Champions!!!

What else did you expect?
(Haters can unsubscribe)

As for the rest of you, considering that I've been serving up one of the best employment law blogs every weekday for the past two-plus years, isn't some Red Sox World Series swag for your guy a fair exchange?

(The answer is yes).

Image credit: @MLB on Twitter

October 30, 2013

Let's play: What did Senator Harry Reid say to affect your workplace?

harryreid.jpegEarlier this week, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) offered some pointed remarks from the Senate floor. He blasted "radical Tea Party Republicans," lambasted "mainstream Republican colleagues, who remained silent even as the anarchists among us committed political malpractice," and then proclaimed, "This work period, the Senate will consider the..."

a. "...Twerk for Work Act, which would provide incentives to employers who hire unemployed Miley Cyrus wannabes who shake what their mamas gave them."

b. "...Fox; specifically, a bipartisan effort to learn what does the Fox say?"

c. "...Employer Handbook. As in, why do people actually read the drivel that spews each morning from Meyer's digits?"

d. "...Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."

If you guessed A, make sure your EPL premiums are paid up.
If you guessed B, put down the drugs.
If you guessed C, go to hell.
If you guessed D, bravo. Treat yourself to a caramel macchiato; your powers of deduction are amazing! And hey, you also got 200 points just for signing your name on your SATs.

I'll update you after the Senate takes up ENDA in a few weeks.

October 29, 2013

Philadelphia bill would require companies to accommodate pregnant employees

Thumbnail image for philadelphia.jpgLast week, I brought you this news of a bill pending in New Jersey, requiring employers to make available reasonable accommodation for pregnancy-related needs when requested by the employee with the advice of her physician.

Yesterday, I read this article in The Legal Intelligencer about this potential amendment to Philadelphia's Fair Practices Ordinance, which too would require employers to make reasonable workplace accommodations for employees who have needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.

What, you may ask, do the bill's sponsors have in mind for reasonable accommodation?

An accommodation that can be made by an employer in the workplace that will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to, restroom breaks, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, assistance with manual labor, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, reassignment to a vacant position, and job restructuring.

The law would task employers with providing accommodating pregnant employees, unless doing so would create undue hardship. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require this -- except for pregnancy-related disabilities. However, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act may require it in certain circumstances. For more on that, check out Robin Shea's post at the Employment and Labor Insider.

And check in here for periodic updates on the pending legislation in Philadelphia.

October 28, 2013

Facebook photo gets female employee fired; male employee merely reprimanded

Thumbnail image for facebutton.pngOver the weekend, I read this article about Laraine Cook, a girls basketball coach at a high school in Idaho, who lost her job, apparently after her school learned about a photo on her Facebook page that showed her boyfriend touching her chest.

What struck me as interesting is that Ms. Cook's boyfriend is also her co-worker, varsity football coach Tom Harrison.

And what struck me as even more interesting is that, while Ms. Cook lost her job, Mr. Harrison was merely disciplined.

Were you thinking gender discrimination? Because the thought did cross my mind.

But, as employment lawyers, business owners, managers, and HR professionals, we've all been in situations in which one event results in discipline for two employees. And there are a variety of reasons why that discipline may be uneven. Here, Ms. Cook may have more prior infractions. The article discussing the incident also indicates that Mr. Harrison has won 10 state championships and was inducted into the Idaho High School Football Hall of Fame in 2000. So, the school may have been more inclined to cut him some slack. And that has nothing to do with gender.

However, let's face it, in this particular instance, there is one reason -- one word -- that we're hearing about an incident involving two teachers in Idaho: Facebook.

Question for you: Is uneven discipline relating to a Facebook-related event the exception to the rule? That is, if a similar Facebook incident occurred in your workplace, knowing that it may draw media attention, would you be more inclined to view the incident in a vacuum and discipline both employees equally?

Let me know in the comments below.

October 25, 2013

How not to respond when an employee complains about sexual harassment

If true, well then, good gawd, this!

October 24, 2013

Court rules that company need not allow mass unscheduled prayer breaks

coexist.jpgWe're talking religious accommodations here at the ole Handbook. 

Last week, it was the Mark of the Beast. Before that, we explored Ramadan bagel parties

Today, we're sticking with the Ramadan theme. Unfortunately, I don't know any Ramadan tunes to soundtrack this post. So, let's just go with Christian rock.

Now, back to Ramadan. In EEOC v. JBS USA, LLC, several Muslim employees at a meatpacking plant argued that their employer engaged in religious discrimination when it failed to allow them to take unscheduled prayer breaks. Specifically, Muslim representatives told JBS that the Muslim employees "have to pray within 10 minutes of sunset and at the most 15 minutes after sunset." JBS responded that it could not relieve 200 employees within a 10-minute window because of safety and quality concerns created by such an accommodation.

To establish religious discrimination for failure to accommodate, an employee must demonstrate that he or she (1) has a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement, (2) informed the employer of this belief, and (3) was disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting requirement. The burden then shifts to the employer to show that the requested accommodation would have caused it undue hardship. This can be shown in one of two ways: added cost to the employer or an imposition on co-workers.

So, mass unscheduled prayer breaks? I'm thinking this may cause an undue hardship. Amirite, United States District Court for the District of Nebraska?

The evidence demonstrates that this accommodation would have imposed more than a de minimis burden on JBS, as well as on co-workers...The evidence demonstrated that extra employee breaks could have an adverse effect on food safety. Safety concerns are highly relevant in determining whether a proposed accommodation would produce an undue hardship on the employer's business....The evidence demonstrates that unscheduled breaks in the manner proposed by the Muslim employees also would have imposed more than a de minimis burden on non-Muslim co-workers. Such unscheduled breaks would have required a supervisor, lead worker, trainer, or coworker to fill in for the employee leaving the line. The substitute, therefore, would not be performing his or her own job while covering for the absent employee.

Yes, while the threshold for establishing something more than a de minimis burden on the company or co-workers is rather low, just be careful about denying accommodations to one religion, while allowing them to another. That's an easy way to find yourself on not only the receiving end, but also the losing end of a religious discrimination lawsuit

October 23, 2013

New Jersey Recognizes Same Sex Marriages - Why it Matters for Pennsylvania Employers

If only I had a hot tub time machine, I would have gone back a day and a half and scooped Phil Miles at Lawffice Space and posted "New Jersey Recognizes Same Sex Marriages - Why it Matters for Pennsylvania Employers" before he did.

Except I didn't.

So read his post entitled "New Jersey Recognizes Same Sex Marriages - Why it Matters for Pennsylvania Employers." It's really good.

Lesson learned. Now, I'm on my game! So, tonight, my marching band and I are going to do an original tribute to Michael Jackson at halftime of a local high school football game. So, I'll post that here tomorrow.

Wait, WTH!

October 22, 2013

New NJ bill targets pregnancy and childbirth discrimination

New Jersey is the home of deep fried hot dogs and the Law Against Discrimination, one of the most employee-friendly anti-discrimination statutes in the country. Here, pregnant employees can order a ripper with relish at Rutt's Hut, but, somehow, are not entitled to preferential leave treatment in the workplace.

However, a new bill pending in the NJ Senate would change all that.

Not the hot dogs, silly. They rule. You know what doesn't rule? Leaving a quart of Rutt's Hut relish in the backseat of your buddy's car overnight during a high-90s Summer heat wave. Sorry, dude.

But about that bill. Christina M. Michelson at BusinessLawNews.com has the scoop:

Under the proposed legislation, a woman affected by pregnancy cannot be treated, for employment-related purposes, in a manner less favorable than other persons not affected by pregnancy but similar in their ability or inability to work. The proposed amendment to the LAD specifically requires employers to make available reasonable accommodation for pregnancy-related needs when requested by the employee with the advice of her physician. It also prohibits the employer from penalizing the employee in terms, conditions or privileges of employment for using the accommodations or, when accommodations are not feasible, for taking time away from work required by the pregnancy, as certified by a physician of the employee taking into account the condition of the employee and the job requirements.

You can view a copy of the proposed legislation here.

October 21, 2013

Nearly half of employers investigate job applicants online


This according to a CareerBuilder.com survey (here) released last week. 

Of the 2,775 hiring managers polled, almost half (48%) responded that employers will use Google or other search engines to research candidates. Nearly the same number (44%) will research the candidate on Facebook. Just over one quarter (27%) will monitor the candidate's activity on Twitter. 23% will review the candidate's posts or comments on Yelp.com, Glassdoor.com or other rating sites.

The survey cites these statistics as a way to encourage job seekers to keep their online personas clean from digital dirt. So, I'll take a different approach and offer some tips for employers:

  1. Employers are not required to conduct an online background check of job applicants. If you do, it's generally best to avoid demanding that applicants disclose social media usernames and passwords. This approach is illegal in many states and is likely to rub your candidates -- the ones you want to like working for you -- the wrong way.

  2. Wait until after the interview and before making the job offer to run the online search. This will save you time by minimizing the number of searches.

  3. If you use a third party to search, remember that the Fair Credit Reporting Act applies. And if you don't, it's probably a good idea to inform your applicants anyway that you will be vetting them online.

  4. Have someone other than the decisionmaker search. What the decisionmaker doesn't know (e.g., the applicant's national origin, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation) won't factor into the employment decision. Instead, have someone else research the applicant online, redact all of the protected-class information, and provide the decision maker with only the red flags that should influence an employment decision (hate speech, productivity issues, drug use, etc.)

  5. Give the applicant a chance to explain. Not everything you read online is true. Other information can be taken out of context. If you find something questionable about an applicant, allow that person an opportunity to address it before making an employment decision.

October 18, 2013

Does the FLSA require paying employees who wait in security lines at work?

True story.

Back in 1999, when I was in law school in Washington DC, I went with my buddy to see The Matrix at the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park. At the time, the Uptown was one of the best places around to watch an action flick. And what better movie to see than The Matrix -- one of my top 10 movies of all time.

WTH does this have to do with the Fair Labor Standards Act? 

Uh, duh...

[Humor me and click through, would ya?]

Continue reading "Does the FLSA require paying employees who wait in security lines at work?" »