New Jersey is an "employment at will" state, meaning that an employer or employee may terminate the relationship at any time, without a reason, and without cause. This also means that there is no requirement for the employer to treat its employees fairly. Wade v. Kessler, 172 N.J. 327, 345 (2002). However, an employer may not violate the public policy of the State of New Jersey when dealing with its employees. New Jersey has very strong public policies protecting employees from discrimination, retaliation and unfair wage practices embodied in New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) and New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law (WHL). At Mashel Law our attorneys concentrate their efforts and skills by using the rights and remedies provided by the LAD, CEPA and WHL laws to recover significant monies for our clients for the financial losses and emotional distress caused to them by workplace discrimination, retaliation, and wage deprivation.The Goal of New Jersey’s Discrimination Laws Is to Eradicate the "Cancer of Discrimination" From the Work Place
"The essence of discrimination…is the formulation of opinions about others not on their individual merits, but on their membership in a class with assumed characteristics." Jansen v. Food Circus Supermarkets, Inc., 110 N.J. 363, 378 (1988). "Unconscious discrimination prejudices its victims as effectively as discrimination that is malicious." Id.
"Freedom from discrimination is one of the fundamental principles of our society." Lehmann v. Toys R’ Us, 132 N.J. 587, 600 (1993). As such, our State Legislature has explicitly declared that "practices of discrimination against any of its inhabitants … are matters of concern to the government of the State, and that such discrimination threatens not only the rights and proper privileges of the inhabitants of the State but menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic State …" N.J.S.A. 10:5-3. It is therefore, "the clear public policy of this State is to abolish discrimination in the work place." Fuchilla v. Layman, 109 N.J. 319, 334 (1988).
To effectuate this clear public policy, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49 (the "LAD") makes it an "unlawful employment practice" for employers "to discharge" an employee because of, inter. alia., his/her race/color, sex/gender, national origin/ancestry, religion/creed, age, marital status, pregnancy, disability/handicap (physical, mental, or emotional), sexual orientation, etc. N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(a). The overarching goal of this law "is nothing less than the eradication ‘of the cancer of discrimination.’" Fuchilla, supra., 109 N.J. at 334.The Goal of New Jersey’s Whistleblowing Laws Is to Protect and Encourage Employees To Report Illegal, Fraudulent, and/or Unethical Workplace Activities
The New Jersey Legislature enacted the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) in 1986 to protect employees who “blow the whistle” on organizations engaged in unlawful or harmful activity from retaliatory action. Young v. Schering Corp., 141 N.J. 16, 23 (1995). New Jersey’s CEPA statute has been described as the most far reaching “whistleblowing statute” in the nation. Mehlman v. Mobile Oil Corp., 153 N.J. 163, 179 (1998). CEPA provides broad protections against employer retaliation for employees acting to promote the public interest. Abbamont, 138 N.J. at 431; Dzwonar v. McDevitt, 177 N.J. 451, 463 (2003). CEPA is intended to “encourage, not thwart, legitimate employee complaints.” Dzwonar, 177 N.J. at 463. Moreover, CEPA protects “whistleblowers,” “who, believing that the public interest overrides the interest of the organization he [or she] serves, publicly ‘blows the whistle’ if the organization is involved in corrupt, illegal, fraudulent, or harmful activity.” Abbamont v. Piscataway Twp. Bd. of Educ., 138 N.J. 405, 417-418 (1994).
Like New Jersey’s LAD, CEPA effectuates important public policies of overcoming the victimization of employees and protecting those who are especially vulnerable in the workplace from the improper or unlawful exercise of authority by employers. Abbamont, 138 N.J. at 418. The Legislature determined that "employers are best situated to avoid or eliminate impermissible vindictive employment practices, to implement corrective measures, and to adopt and enforce employment policies that will serve to achieve the salutary purposes of the legislative mandates of CEPA." Id. Therefore, the overarching goal of the CEPA legislation is to "protect and encourage employees to report illegal or unethical workplace activities and to discourage public and private sector employers from engaging in such conduct." Id. at 431; Dzwonar 177 N.J. at 461.The Goal of New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law Is to Ensure Workers Receive the Legal Wages Due For the Hours They Have Worked
The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law ("WHL") and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") protect the wages of New Jersey’s hourly workers. They do this by requiring employers to compensate hourly wage employees for each hour worked at a minimum wage rate (in New Jersey the minimum wage in 2019 is $8.85/hour), and to pay overtime wages at 1.5 times an employee’s regular hourly rate for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. This means that an employee is not permitted to work any time "off the clock" without pay even if the employee does so willingly.
The overtime wage rate requirements contained in the New Jersey’s WHL and FLSA benefit workers by dissuading employers from forcing employees to work excessively long hours. Such a disincentive has the salutary effect of promoting the health and quality of life of workers who value leisure and family time. Conversely, these same overtimes pay requirements afford workers the right to earn extra pay at a time when lower and middle class workers wages have remained stubbornly stagnant. When employers fail to pay their employees overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 times their regular rate for hours worked during a workweek, these public policy goals are defeated.Let Us Help You
If you believe your employer has violated the LAD, CEPA, WHL or FLSA, don’t hesitate to call us at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page. Mashel Law located in Marlboro, New Jersey, is dedicated to protecting employee rights.