There is never a dull moment in employment law. Life certainly would be much easier if the law never changed, but where’s the fun in that? The truth is, the laws, ordinances, and case precedent affecting employers (and impacting employment practices, policies, and procedures) change every day, and it can be incredibly difficult to keep up with, and stay ahead of, the curve.

This article, which presents a small smattering of recent developments in New Jersey employment law, could change the way employers do business and save employers time and money, as the failure to be compliant with these developments in the law could result in serious trouble and exposure to liability. Here are some relatively recent changes in New Jersey law that employers should observe, monitor and, where necessary, implement through updating their employee handbooks and policies.

Pregnancy is Protected. Pregnancy is a protected class under New Jersey law. Following a national trend toward increasing the rights and protections afforded to expectant employees, New Jersey enacted the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (ANJPWFA), codified at N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(s) as an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees in the workplace when recommended by the employee’s physician. The new law clearly states that employers may not treat a pregnant employee “in a manner less favorable” than other similarly situated, but not pregnant, employees. While the NJPWFA does not require an employer to provide any accommodation that poses an undue hardship on the employer’s business operation, the message and purpose of the law is clear: pregnant women vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace require protection, and they have a legal right to maintain their positions in the workforce provided they can adequately perform their job, with or without accommodation.

Paid Sick Leave. Paid sick leave is a trending topic employment law. There are bills pending before the New Jersey Legislature that would require employers to provide mandatory sick leave for all employees. Paid sick leave ordinances already have been adopted by many New Jersey municipalities, including Newark and more recently, Trenton. The concept is gaining momentum and could become state and federal law. If the law passes it would not replace already existing protections available to employees under the federal Family Medical Leave Act or New Jersey Family Leave Act, but rather it would complement them. Employers, regardless of size, would be obligated to provide paid sick time to eligible employees. The amount of sick time would depend on the size of the employer and the amount of sick time “earned” by the employee. The pending legislation also imposes carry-forward, reporting, and disclosure requirements, as well as civil and criminal penalties for an employer’s failure to comply. If passed, paid sick leave laws or ordinances could raise serious new concerns for all New Jersey employers and should be closely monitored.

The impact of these and other ever-changing employment laws make it imperative for businesses to consult with counsel to stay ahead of the curve, ensure employment policies are current, and to remain compliant.

Benjamin E. Widener is a Shareholder in the Employment and Litigation practice groups at Stark & Stark and Chair of the firm’s Employment Law Group, responsible for managing all aspects of employment-related work handled by the firm. Ben concentrates his practice in employment litigation and counseling, as well as general commercial and civil litigation. For more information, please contact Mr. Widener at bwidener@stark-stark.com.

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