New Jersey's Blue Wave: Will Employers Sink or Swim

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2018-2019 has been nearly an unprecedented time for New Jersey employers.

And that means that is has been unprecedented for the Employers Association of New Jersey as well.

According to John Sarno, president of the association, who wrote a book about the organization’s history in 2016 for its 100-year anniversary, the 1930s may be the only comparison.

“The 1930s brought us the New Deal, the Social Security Act, the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair labor Standards Act, all of which had a profound and unalterable impact on the workplace” says Sarno.

Even a partial list of recent legislative enactments and executive orders pose daunting challenges for the state’s employers:

Earned Sick Pay - Employees, including part-timers, are entitled to accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours per year.  Up to 40 hours per year can be carried over.  In addition to taking paid time off for their own illness, employees will be able to take time when a family member is ill and to attend school-related conferences or meetings.  “Family member” is broadly defined, including siblings and grandparents. The law applies to every employer in the state, regardless of size.

Family Leave Insurance – Employees are entitled to 12-weeks of wage insurance to bond with a baby or care for family members for maximum weekly payment under the leave program to about $860. The law applies to every employer in the state, regardless of size.

Expanded Family Leave Job Protection -   Employees working at businesses with 30 or more employees are guaranteed return to their jobs if they take family leave. Leave can be taken by the day or week up to 12-weeks per year. Employees may sue their employer for violations of the law.

Equal Pay for Equal Work - Employers are prohibited from offering lower pay and benefits to a worker in a "protected classes" such as women and minorities, compared with others who perform "substantially similar work." The law permits workers to talk about their “compensation” which includes wages and benefits, with co-workers and lawyers and prohibits employers from cutting the wages of higher-paid staff in order to make salaries comparable. The law applies to every employer in the state, regardless of size and employees may sue their employer for violations of the law.

Expanded Medical Marijuana Program- State regulations have increased the number of patients for the program by adding anxiety, chronic pain and other common disorders so that more employers will be presented with request for medical accommodations.

Mandatory Retirement Savings Accounts - Employers with 25 or more employees and that have been in business for at least two years, are required to participate in a retirement savings program with automatic payroll deductions and savings accounts for workers without a 401(k) plan.  

For Sarno, the new legislation will inevitably change the nature of the employer-employee relationship.

For example, most association members already provide sick pay and family-medical leave.  But it is part of the voluntary bargain between the employer and employee, says Sarno.

“Benefits, like wages, are paid and earned in good faith. But an ‘entitlement’ upsets the relationship. It can change it from ‘we’ to ‘us and them.’”    

Sarno thinks that the equal pay law will be a game changer.

“Only because it requires specialty knowledge that most human resource generalists don’t have right now and it is unclear whether a small-business owner is focused on the issue at the moment” he says.

So, will New Jersey employers sink or swim?

On May 7, 2019, the employers’ group will be addressing these pressing issues and others, at its 103th Annual Membership Meeting. Panelists and speakers will provide information that employers need to swim the tide of New Jersey’s Blue Wave.

Register for the event here