There are well over 100 federal employment laws that govern the employer-employee relationship and employee rights. These laws are in place to protect the safety of employees, ensure they are paid fairly, protect workers from illegal discrimination, and establish and protect other important rights within the workplace. Because of the large number of employment laws, many people are unsure about their employee rights and what is covered by them. Employment laws govern such things as workplace discrimination, family and medical leave, labor relations, wages and overtime, and other matters. Here is a brief overview of what is covered by employment law from the attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Federal and State Anti-Discrimination Laws
State and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from discriminating against applicants and employees in all phases of the employment relationship based on the employees’ membership in certain protected groups. Employers cannot discriminate against employees or applicants based on the following characteristics:
- National origin
- Citizenship status
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Genetic information
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its amendments are the federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on different protected characteristics. At the state level in New Jersey, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination also protects employees in the state from discrimination and is broader than the federal law. A discrimination lawyer can help you determine the specific laws that might apply in your case and whether you should file a complaint under state or federal anti-discrimination law.
One example of when New Jersey’s state law is more expansive than the federal law is with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or ADEA. This federal law prohibits discrimination against workers who are ages 40 or older based on their age and covers employers with 20 or more employees. By contrast, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination against workers based on their age for employees ages 18 and older. Recently, Governor Phil Murphy also signed a bill that expands the age discrimination protections in New Jersey. Previously, the NJLAD allowed employers to discriminate against applicants ages 70 or older, but the new law removed that exception and now prohibits discrimination against workers who are past retirement age. The NJLAD also covers employers of any size rather than being restricted to those with 20 or more workers.
At the federal level, the anti-discrimination laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. At the state level, the NJLAD is enforced by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.
Family and Medical Leave Laws
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act or FMLA was passed in 1993 and allows eligible employees who work for covered employers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work to care for their own serious health conditions or those of their close family members. The FMLA also allows people to take this type of job-protected leave for certain reasons related to a loved one’s active duty military service or when they adopt or foster a new child. The FMLA applies to employers with a minimum of 50 employees working within 75 miles of each other. Eligible employees include those who have worked for the covered employer for 12 or more months before requesting leave and who have worked for at least 1,250 hours during the preceding 12 months. Eligible employees can take up to 12 months of FMLA leave each year as long as they qualify.
The New Jersey Family Leave Act allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave every 24 months. This type of leave is available to eligible workers who need to care for a loved one’s serious health condition, but it does not apply to employees who need to care for their own serious health conditions. The NJFLA applies to private employers with at least 30 employees or public employers regardless of size. Eligible employees include those who have worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,000 hours during the previous 12 months.
Workers’ Compensation Laws
The state’s workers’ compensation law is administered by the state. All employers in New Jersey must carry workers’ compensation insurance to protect their employees if they are injured or sickened because of their jobs. Injured employees and those who contract occupational diseases at work can file claims with their employers’ workers’ compensation insurance carrier. The coverage provides benefits to pay for all of the workers’ related medical costs. If the employees are unable to return to work either temporarily or permanently, workers’ compensation also provides temporary or permanent disability benefits to replace a portion of their previous incomes.
National Labor Relations Act
The National Labor Relations Act or NLRA protects employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain to improve their workplace conditions. Employees have the right to form or join unions. If they are fired for engaging in protected activities, the employers might be ordered to rehire them and pay them back pay.
Wage and Hour Laws
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA establishes standards for minimum wages and overtime pay for employees in all states. Under the FLSA, employers must pay non-exempt workers a minimum of $7.25 per hour and must pay overtime compensation to them when they work more than 40 hours during a work week. There are certain categories of workers who are not covered by the minimum wage requirements, including agricultural workers, newspaper delivery workers, babysitters, and others. Other exempt employees include those in administrative, professional, executive, IT, and outside sales positions and those who are highly compensated employees. These types of exempt employees must be paid at least a minimum salary, and their positions must meet certain conditions for the degree of responsibility.
New Jersey has a higher state minimum wage law. As of Jan. 1, 2021, all non-exempt employees must be paid at least $12 per hour. Since the state’s law requires a higher minimum wage, New Jersey employers must pay the higher state minimum wage instead of the federal minimum wage.
Workplace Safety Laws
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The OSH Act requires employers to follow specific guidelines to keep their workplaces safe for employees. Employees are protected from exposure to toxic chemicals, exposure to loud noise, mechanical dangers, repetitive injuries, and many others.
Consult With an Employment Lawyer
There are many other employment laws that protect workers. If you think that your rights have been violated under one of these laws or wonder whether your employer might have acted illegally under a different law, you should talk to an experienced attorney at Swartz Swidler. Call us for a free consultation at (856) 685-7420.