New Jersey Employment Law Basics

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
New Jersey employees are protected by federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination, require time off, regulate wages and overtime, and more.

As an employee in New Jersey, you are protected by federal and state laws throughout the employment process, from hiring through the end of your relationship with your employer. Below, we explain some of the laws that apply to New Jersey employees, including laws prohibiting discrimination, requiring employers to pay overtime and the minimum wage, and giving employees the right to take time off work.

New Jersey Laws Prohibiting Discrimination and Harassment

Under federal law, employers may not make employment decisions based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (if the employee is at least 40 years old), disability, or genetic information. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to these laws (for age discrimination, employers with at least 20 employees must comply with the law).

These laws prohibit discrimination in every aspect of employment, from job postings, interviews, and hiring decisions to promotions, benefits, pay, discipline, performance reviews, layoffs, and firing. For detailed information on the federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Laws Enforced by the EEOC.

New Jersey law also protects employees from discrimination based on these traits. In addition, employees in New Jersey are protected from discrimination based on marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military service, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, unemployed status, or accompaniment by a service or guide dog. All New Jersey employers must comply with these laws, regardless of size. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights enforces these laws and takes complaints of discrimination and harassment.

Workplace harassment based on any of these traits is also illegal. From a legal perspective, harassment is unwelcome workplace conduct or comments, based on the target’s protected characteristic, that creates a hostile work environment or that the target must endure as a condition of getting or keeping the job. Sexual harassment is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on race, disability, and other protected traits.

Your employer may not retaliate against you for complaining of discrimination or harassment. Your employer may not discipline, fire, or take other negative action against you because you complain within the company, to a government agency (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights), or in a lawsuit.

Workplace Safety Laws in New Jersey

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe workplace, free of known hazards. This law applies in all states, including New Jersey. Employers must provide safe working conditions, including the training and safety equipment necessary for your industry and the type of work you do.

Employees have the right to request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection if they believe their employer has committed safety violations. Your employer may not retaliate against you for complaining about unsafe working conditions.

New Jersey Workers’ Compensation

If you suffer an on-the-job injury, you will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation. Most New Jersey employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides you with a percentage of your usual earnings, pays for necessary medical treatment, and provides vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.

Wage and Hour Laws in New Jersey

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New Jersey law set the wage and hour standards employers must follow, including the minimum wage, overtime, and other wage laws. Employers must pay the highest minimum wage applicable to employees, whether set by federal, state, or local law. For 2016, New Jersey employers must pay employees at least $8.38 an hour; this rate is adjusted annually based on the consumer price index. Because the state minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25, New Jersey employers must pay at least the state minimum wage.

Under the FLSA and New Jersey law, employers must pay employees time and a half if they work more than 40 hours in a week. Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, however. If you fall within an exception to the overtime laws (for example, because you are a salaried manager as defined by the law), you are an exempt employee, which means you are not eligible for overtime.

Learn more about New Jersey wage and overtime rules at the website of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. You can find out more about the FLSA from the Wage and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor.

Your Right to Time Off Work in New Jersey

Many employers voluntarily offer their employees paid leave, such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. In New Jersey, as in most states, these benefits are discretionary. However, employees in New Jersey have the right to use the state’s temporary disability insurance and paid family leave programs to get paid for some of their time off work.

Unpaid Leave Rights

In New Jersey, employers must offer unpaid leave for:

  • Family and medical leave. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers with at least 50 employees must give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness, bonding with a new child, and caregiving. New Jersey requires employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks off every 24 months to care for a seriously ill family member or to care for a newly born or newly adopted child.
  • Domestic violence leave. New Jersey law requires employers with at least 25 employees to allow employees who are victims (or family members of victims) of domestic or sexual violence to take time off to get medical or legal help, seek counseling, or deal with other practical matters. Employees may take up to 20 days off, unpaid, for these purposes.
  • Military family leave. An employee may use the federal FMLA to take time off to handle certain practical matters arising from a family member’s deployment or military service. And employers must give eligible employees up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who suffers a serious injury on active military duty.
  • Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and New Jersey military leave law both require employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employees must be reinstated after their leave, and may not be discriminated against based on their service. New Jersey law also gives employees the right to take up to three months off every four years for annual assemblies or training, or for service school.
  • Jury duty. New Jersey employers must also allow employees to take time off work for jury service. This time is unpaid.

Insurance Programs

New Jersey has two state insurance programs that provide partial wage replacement to employees who take time off. The state’s temporary disability insurance program provides employees who are temporarily unable to work due to disability or pregnancy about two-thirds of their usual wages. Under the state’s family leave insurance program, employees may receive wage replacement for up to six weeks while caring for a seriously ill family member or bonding with a new child. Neither of these programs give employees the right to take time off in the first place; they simply provide payment to employees who are off work. Learn more about both programs at the website of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Job Termination in New Jersey

New Jersey employees generally work at will. This means they can be fired at any time, for any reason that is not illegal. However, even at-will employees may not be fired for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. You may not be fired, for example, for complaining about illegal discrimination or filing a wage claim for unpaid overtime.

Post-Termination Benefits

If you are laid off or otherwise lose your job through no fault of your own (for example, you are not fired for serious misconduct and you don’t quit voluntarily), you may qualify for unemployment benefits in New Jersey. Once you start receiving benefits, you will have to search for work to continue receiving them. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings for 26 weeks while you are looking for a new job.

Under a federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), you may have the right to continue your health insurance coverage after your employment ends. However, you will have to pay the full premium (including whatever portion your employer used to pay), plus up to 2% of that amount for administrative costs. You can continue these benefits for 18 to 36 months, depending on your situation.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have questions about your workplace rights, you should speak to an experienced New Jersey employment lawyer.

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