We were hanging out at 7-11 watching Oceans Eleven on our I-Phone 11s when the 11:00 o’clock news announced that our Governor is trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by implementing the most new employment laws in the shortest time. And he’s not waiting until the eleventh hour to do it. So we’ll give you 11 guesses as to how many new employment laws have been passed so far this year. Give up? Ok, New Jersey has 11 new employment laws in just the first 6 weeks of 2020. That’s like almost 2 laws a week. If they keep it up, that’s like 104 new employment laws in a year. PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!!
Here’s what you need to know:
On January 21, NJ became the first state to require severance pay for mass layoffs under the state version of the WARN Act. Congratulations to us. The changes to the existing law are dramatic. The notice period under the new law will be 90 days up from 60 (still the federal standard). Notice will be required when 50 or more employees are being terminated regardless of the number of hours worked (which used be a factor), and the requirement that the 50 or more constitute at least a third of the team is also gone. The 50 no longer need to be from a single site. A statewide RIF of 50 or more will trigger the law. If you’re squeamish, avert your eyes from this next part. A WARN trigger requires employers to pay each terminated employee at least 1 week of severance pay for each year of employment. And that’s if the employer gets the 90-day notice period right. If the employer blows the notice period, the employees will be entitled to 4 weeks’ pay for every year of employment. Let’s just think about the logic of this for a minute. Stand by for a series of obvious but rhetorical questions. If an employer suddenly needs to terminate 50 employees at once, what are the chances that they can wait 3 months; and if they can give that much notice, how likely is that employer going to be able to pay severance; and if they can’t wait 90 days, how exactly can they pay 4 times the amount of severance? One more thing. If you want the employees to sign a release in exchange for the severance, you need to pay more than the statute requires. Another well thought out law brought to you by your Legislature. This one becomes effective on July 19, 2020.
The day before the WARN debacle, Murph signed a series of new laws (6 out of the 11) ushering in the beginning of the end of independent contractors about which we warned you in, Were the Pilgrims Independent Contractors? The laws are worse than we anticipated. If the DOL makes a preliminary finding of misclassification, it can issue a Stop Work Order, meaning shutdown the company on 7 days’ notice and the only recourse is an appeal within 72 hours to…wait for it…the DOL. Another law authorizes DOL investigators to enter businesses, immediately require production of business records and interview employees during business hours. If DOL shows up, all we can suggest is shut out the lights, close the blinds and be very, very quiet. But a denial of access can cost $1,000 a day in fines, so never mind. Fines for misclassification have also increased significantly. If you hire ICs through an agency, another new law makes employers, managers and principals jointly liable with the real employer for unpaid wages and taxes for misclassified employees. So, even if the agency has received the cash from you, but the state determines that there is a misclassification and the agency has spent your dough, the “joint employer” will be on the hook a second time. The DOL also has a new power to post on its website the names of employers that have misclassified employees, using #Yourescrewed. And as if that’s not bad enough, by April 1, 2020, all employers must post a new notice explaining the differences between an employee and independent contractor and lay out workers’ rights and remedies so that they can sue you. Considering that DOL recently sent Uber a bill for $650 million just for back Unemployment and Temporary Disability Insurance payments for New Jersey drivers, it looks like they’re serious. While Uber appeals, we’re just gonna download that Lyft app.
Number 8, which takes effect on May 20, 2020, provides that NJ employees who are disabled due to organ or bone marrow donation will be entitled to job protected leave so long as they are considered disabled under the Temporary Disability benefits law. Even we don’t think an employee is about to give up a vital organ just for a few extra days off so this is all good. As a practical matter, any employee eligible for FMLA likely had this protection anyway, but for those not qualified now they will.
The ninth new law became effective on January 9, 2020 and provides the same civilian job protection to National Guard members who miss work due to a state emergency, as does USERRA when soldiers are deployed on active duty.
The most baffling of the new laws is number 10, the New Jersey Call Center Jobs Act. We cannot figure out why we need this law (not the first time we’ve said that but this time we mean it). The law applies to call centers that employ at least 50 f/t employees or 50 who combined work 1,500 or more hours a week without OT. It requires that the employer maintain staffing levels to handle at least 65% of the call and/or email volume measured by the prior 6-month average volume (what?). If staffing falls below that mark, the employer must notify the DOL. If the employer relocates the call center or transfers a portion of the operations to an overseas location, the employer must provide the DOL with 90 days’ advanced notice. Failure to give either notice will cost employers $7,500 a day. Hey DOL, lose this 800- number!
And finally, rounding out the first 11 new employment laws for 2020, is an amendment to the wage payment law. This one requires employers with 10+ employees to provide on each paystub, in addition to the deductions, the total gross and net wages, pay rate, and if relevant, the number of hours worked. Most employers do this anyway, but now it’s the law. If paystubs are electronic, the law requires employers to provide it on paper to any employee who requests that environmentally unfriendly alternative. Sorry Bernie. Call Phil.
Let us know if you need any help sorting this out. We did. And stand by for the next flood of new employment laws. Maybe in the next round they’ll figure out that everything is Cheaper by the Dozen.