Understanding New Jersey’s Unlawful Discrimination Laws
The employment “at-will doctrine” remains the rule of New Jersey employment law today. Absent a writing (aka employment contract) specifying the terms or duration of the employment relationship under the common law in New Jersey, employment is presumed to be terminable at-will by either the employer or the employee at any time and for any reason, with or without notice or cause, unless prohibited by law or public policy.
Even where there is an employment contract, if it does not specify a period of time that the employment will last, the agreement is presumed to be of indefinite duration, and therefore, terminable at will by either party.
Thus, when employment in New Jersey is not for a definite term and there is no contractual or statutory restriction on the right of termination, an employer may lawfully discharge an employee whenever and for whatever cause – so long as that cause or reason is not discriminatory or against public policy. If so, the employer is, without liability. On this page, I intend to discuss with you exceptions to the “at-will doctrine” of NJ employment law in the context of unlawful employment termination because of discrimination.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in New Jersey Provides Broad Protections
State laws make it illegal for employers to make decisions that are motivated by an employee’s age. Federal law also limits age-related lawsuits to persons who are 40 years of age or older.
Many actions by an employer can indicate that age was a motivating factor in a decision that affected an employee or multiple employees. Often there are indications of age discrimination when an employee has been loyal and dedicated to an employer for a long period of time but is terminated or subjected to disparate treatment (along with other older employees) by a new supervisor or manager.
There are different legal standards and different levels of proof required depending on whether an employee is allegedly part of a reduction in force, terminated, not hired, or subjected to other adverse actions while still employed. But one thing remains the same regardless of the type of adverse action that is premised upon an individual’s age, it is illegal.
Employers may not be familiar with their obligations concerning an employee’s religion or religious practices. Under federal and newly enacted law in New Jersey, religion does not mean only mainstream or organized religions. Rather, an employee need only have a religious belief, common or uncommon in the community, which is sincerely held.
There are several basic religious issues recognized by federal law.
(1) Purposeful or indifferent willingness to make a reasonable accommodation:
Once an employee notifies his or her employer that a bona fide religious belief conflicts with a job requirement, the employer must make reasonable efforts to accommodate the employee. An employer’s failure to participate in a process with the employee and/or failure to reasonably accommodate an employee may violate federal or New Jersey law. Most common accommodations sought by employees are certain days off or time off during the day (often for prayer breaks), not to have to shave, and to be permitted to wear religious garments.
(2) Religious harassment/disparate treatment:
It is generally illegal for employers and/or coworkers to discriminate, harass, or in any way alter the terms and conditions of an employee’s employment (including termination) because of an employee’s religious beliefs. Employees also cannot be forced to participate in religious activities.
Note that it is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on religion or for filing a discrimination charge or participating in an investigation or case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Discrimination Because of a Disability
Federal law defines a “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals in employment as well as in public services, public accommodations, and in public transportation.
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified employees with disabilities in all aspects of employment including job applications, hiring, promotion, compensation, training, and discharge.
Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for a qualified individual with a disability if asked. The employer must also participate in a dialogue with the employee to help determine what, if any, reasonable accommodation is feasible for the employee.
Employers cannot ask a job applicant about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. Applicants may be questioned about their ability to perform specific job functions. A job offer can be conditional on the results of a medical examination if the examination is required for all employees in similar jobs. Medical examinations of employees must be job-related and further the employer’s business needs.
Every case that involves the ADA is highly fact-specific and not all individuals are protected. The ADA only protects certain individuals with certain medical conditions. New Jersey law also protects individuals with disabilities, and much more protection is available than provided by the federal version of the ADA.
Have you been denied a reasonable accommodation, treated adversely because of your disability or because your employer believes you are disabled? If so, consult an experienced employment attorney at Hanlon Niemann to learn whether you may be protected.
Have a question or legal matter that requires the advice of a NJ employment law attorney? Then contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. at (855) 376-5291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for a low-cost consultation in our Freehold (MonmouthCounty) or at your place of business.
Family Medical Leave Act
Under federal law, most employers with 50 or more employees must provide eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:
- For the birth and care of a newborn child of the employee
- When an employee adopts a child
- To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
- When an employee suffers from a serious health condition, rendering that employee unable to work.
New Jersey has enacted a much more expansive Family Leave Act that applies to all employers, even those with just one employee.
Employers cannot terminate or retaliate against employees for taking Family Medical Leave. Employees must be reinstated to their previous position or an equivalent position upon returning from Family Medical Leave. There are some circumstances when an employee can take intermittent Family Medical Leave, working during the normal workweek.
New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD)
In addition to providing some of the same protections afforded under federal law, New Jersey’s LAD is a comprehensive civil rights statute that protects employees from discrimination based on some characteristics not protected under federal law. One important example is an employee’s sexual orientation. An employee’s rights and protections under the LAD are often greater than under federal law and those who feel they have been unfairly treated in an employment context should look closely at this statute.
As employment and labor lawyers, our firm has litigated numerous cases involving complex discrimination, fair housing, A.D.A., L.A.D., covenants not to compete and other labor employment relations claims. Our attorneys have been lead NJ counsel in a multi-million dollar class action case involving hundreds of employees, a large international corporation and millions of dollars in damage claims.
Have a question or legal matter that requires the advice of a NJ employment law attorney? Then contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. at (855) 376-5291 or email him at email@example.com to arrange for a low-cost consultation in our Freehold (Monmouth County) or at your place of business.