Employment Law Blog

Categories: Wage & Hour

U.S. Women's Soccer Team Sues for Equal Pay

March 11, 2019

We have written a number of times in this blog about recent changes in New Jersey to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. (“NJLAD”) relating to equal pay. See our blog from November 21, 2018 concerning the passage of the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act amending the NJLAD. See also our February 4, 2019 article on conducting Pay Equity Studies. We also predicted in other publications that lawsuits involving gender equality in terms of pay and working conditions would become more prevalent. Our prediction was prescient.

On March 8, 2019 the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in California under the federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) and under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for gender discrimination. It follows a wage discrimination charge of discrimination filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in 2016 by five of the U.S. players. In February, the EEOC issued the players a right-to-sue letter.

In the lawsuit, the women complain about unequal pay and disparate treatment from the US Men’s Team in terms of travel arrangements and being required to play on turf fields. This suit is on the heels of a number of suits filed by the US Women’s Hockey Team and Norway’s women’s team‘s successful suit to be paid equally to its men’s counterpart.

The US women allege better results and higher TV ratings than the US Men’s team. However, there are some complicating factors at play here. The US Women’s Team and the US Men’s Team have different collective bargaining agreements. While the men receive higher game bonuses, they are paid only if they make the team, while the women receive guaranteed salaries supplemented by smaller match bonuses. Additionally, FIFA (soccer’s world governing body) pays men’s teams significantly more than women’s teams. In any event, stay tuned. We expect other, similar suits alleging discrimination in pay and working conditions.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Equal Pay Act, Discrimination

USDOL Issues Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking Concerning Changes to the Overtime Law

March 11, 2019

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires employers to pay at least minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime at one and one-half times employees’ regular hourly rates of pay for all hours over forty (40) in a workweek. However, Section 13(a)(1) of the FLSA provides an exemption from both the minimum wage and overtime for employees employed in bona fide executive, administrative, professional (the “white collar exemptions”) and outside sales positions. Sections 13(a)(1) and 13(a)(17) also exempts certain computer employees. Certain “Highly Compensated Employees” earning $100,000 or more per year also are deemed exempt.

On March 7, 2019, the United States Department of Labor (“USDOL”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that would make more than one million more workers eligible for overtime pay. Previously, employees coming under the white collar exemptions also needed to earn $455/week ($23,660/year) to be exempt. The NPRM proposes increasing the amount to $679/week ($35,308), which would result in employers needing to pay more employees overtime. The proposal does not call for automatically updating of the salary threshold. In addition, the USDOL proposal would raise the bar for Highly Compensated Employees from $100,000 to $147,414. Finally, for the first time, it is proposed that employers be allowed to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to ten percent (10%) of the standard salary level.

The federal and state wage and hour laws are some of the most misunderstood and misapplied employment statutes. If your Company has questions concerning any employee’s eligibility for overtime or whether your workers are independent contractors or employees, we are here to help.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Wage & Hour

The Importance of Engaging in a Pay Equity Study

February 4, 2019

Background on the Need for a Pay Equity Study
The recent passage of the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (the “Act”) amended the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) to strengthen protections against employment discrimination and to promote equal pay for women and employees in other protected categories. The Act became effective on July 1, 2018. Being proactive under these new strict protections is of the utmost importance. As such, If you are a New Jersey employer, we urge you to engage in a “pay equity study.” The goal of which would be to develop an understanding of the Company’s current pay structures, and to either explain differences in pay among comparable employees or to correct pay differences that cannot be justified. Mandelbaum Salsburg's employment law attorneys stand ready to assist in this capacity.

It is now an unlawful employment practice under the LAD for an employer to pay any employee who is a member of a protected class less than the rate paid to other employees not members of that protected class for “substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility.” The Act does much more than just advocating gender pay equity. It expands equal pay on the basis of membership in the protected classes of the LAD, to include race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy or breastfeeding, sex, gender identity or expression, disability or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual, or liability for service in the armed forces.

Limited Exceptions
There are very limited exceptions where an employer may pay a different rate of compensation to members of the protected class, including where a pay differential is due to seniority or a merit system. In all pay discrepancies, the employer must demonstrate each of the following:

  1. That the differential is based on one or more legitimate, bona fide factors other than the characteristics of members of the protected class, such as training, education or experience, or the quantity or quality of production;
  2. That the factor or factors are not, and do not perpetuate differential in compensation, based on sex or any other characteristic of members of a protected class;
  3. That each of the factors is applied reasonably;
  4. That one or more of the factors account for the entire wage differential; and
  5. That the factors are job-related with respect to the position in question and based on a legitimate business necessity.

What Exactly is Unlawful?
The Act provides that an unlawful employment practice occurs each time pay practices discriminate against an employee, and the employee can seek back pay for up to six (6) years. In this way the Act substantially lengthens the statute of limitations for claims based on pay equity to beyond the LAD’s normal, two (2) year statute of limitations.

If an employer is found guilty of violating the equal pay practices required by the Act, a judge or jury can award treble damages for the violation. Treble damages are also available to an employee who proves that the employer retaliated against her/him for requesting, discussing, or disclosing to (i) any other employee or former employee of the employer, (ii) a lawyer from whom the employee seeks legal advice, or (iii) any government agency, information regarding employee compensation/pay practices. Likewise, treble damages are available to an employee or prospective employee who is asked by the employer to sign a waiver regarding discussing or disclosing pay practices or rates.

A successful claimant will also be entitled to attorneys’ fees in a practice called “fee shifting.”

For all of these reasons, it is necessary to carefully review Company hiring and compensation practices to insure there is pay equity for employees who perform “substantially similar work” –the so-called pay equity study.

Advantages of a Pay Equity Study
A pay equity study will help your company reduce its potential liability by addressing three questions:

  • Which pay differences are at issue?
  • Whose pay should be compared?
  • What are the factors that explain differences in pay?
Specific and complete answers to the last question are critical. Absent being able to provide valid justifications and cogent explanations, your Company is potentially at great risk. The key challenge in finding these answers comes with the realization that the Company’s historic pay decisions were made one at a time, over an extended period of time and depended upon a variety of factors specific to the time at which they were made. Ultimately, the Company must able to explain and justify the cumulative results of all past pay decisions; a potentially difficult task.

Most companies keep a close eye on some of their pay decisions, such as the grant of merit raises and the starting pay of their positions. Unfortunately, tracking individual decisions are not enough. Although the Act refers specifically to pay decisions, in many cases the inability to reach into the past for data means that differences in existing levels of pay likely will be used to support a prima facie discrimination claim. The Act and other such laws refer directly to equal pay for the same work. Thus, how employees are paid today—not just the pay decisions of yesterday or yesteryear—must be examined and understood fully.

How the Process Works
The pay equity review process begins with comparing the pay of employees who are “similarly situated.” But individuals who are comparable today were not always thus. Given that pay today equals pay at hire plus all subsequent changes in pay, including those that emanate from promotion or transfer, employees that today perform similar work, in the not-so-distant past, may have worked in different jobs, different grades, different units, different locations or even different companies. Knowing this history may lead to better understanding, but this alone will do nothing to protect the Company from sustainable claims.

Differences in knowledge, skill, ability, effort or responsibility provide a legitimate basis for differences in pay among employees doing the same work. However, there are few, if any, direct measures of these factors available, and pay equity studies typically rely on the “usual suspects” to explain pay differences. These include:
  • Responsibility for people.
  • Knowledge.
  • Communication skills.
  • Physical demands.
  • Emotional demands.
  • Mental skills.
  • Initiative.
  • Length of time in job or grade.
  • Part-time status.
  • Physical/geographic location.
  • Company service time.
  • Education.
  • Prior experience (as measured by age or time between leaving school and hire).

Ultimately, Employers will need in-depth information to effectively explain and defend pay differences. Information that can be collected and analyzed through a pay equity study and maintained at the ready include:

  • Work activities: collect information about each job’s actual work activities and responsibilities; this may also include how, why and when the workers perform such activities.
  • Human Behavior: this can include the degree of perception exercised by the employee and other human behaviors such as communicating, judgment and writing and speaking skills.
  • Skilled (or not) use of Machines, Tools, Equipment and Other Work Aids: this could factor in computer use and literacy, knowledge dealt with or applied and services rendered.
  • Job Context: should include such considerations as physical working conditions, work schedule and social factors.
  • Human Requirements: this could include job-related knowledge or skills, education, training and/or work experience, and required personal attributes such as aptitude, physical characteristics, personality and interests.

Two caveats: first, the above factors must be dealt with as objectively as possible and, if capable of measurement, must not be tainted by cognitive bias; second, the law specifically does not permit the perpetuation of past discrimination. Thus, basing a hiring pay offer on previous pay, where such previous pay could be tainted, would only propel discrimination into the future. Employees must be placed into the pay scale in a manner that is rational and disciplined.

Ultimately, the adoption and maintenance of job descriptions is an integral part of a transparent, fair pay system. Having accurate job descriptions makes it much easier to evaluate and grade different jobs – and ensure that employees doing equal work receive equal pay. Job descriptions should follow job evaluation scheme factors. This will make jobs easier to evaluate and help avoid aspects of jobs more commonly performed by women being omitted or undervalued in the evaluation process, compared to those of jobs more commonly carried out by men. To the extent that current job descriptions exist, they should be reviewed as part of the preliminary review.

In addition to job descriptions, the second part of this comprehensive analysis involves the development of Salary Guides for all identified positions. One of the required Affirmative Action Plan reports, the Workforce Analysis, requests that the Company sort the jobs in each Department by wage or salary. Salary Guides are used by many businesses to help managers manage the compensation of new employees and to establish appropriate pay increases for existing employees while maintaining equity among the jobs in the company. Salary Guides provide a structure and logic for fairly compensating employees and managing the Company’s payroll costs.

Mandelbaum Salsburg’s Employment Law Practice can provide assistance and advice and help companies conduct this important survey. Involvement of legal counsel will provide you with necessary expertise and the protection of attorney-client privilege. If engaged, we would be prepared to work with one or more Company executives to review personnel information and compensation data. While it is clear that this process is no easy task; to do nothing (our usual default option) can lead to some very serious consequences. If you wish to learn more or to engage in this process, please contact Gary S. Young at gyoung@lawfirm.ms.

Attorney: Gary Young
Category: Equal Pay Act

Tis the Season to be Careful, Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

December 7, 2018

Company holiday parties are often great for camaraderie and employee morale but are fraught with danger, whether it be harassment, religious discrimination or drinking and driving.

We don’t want to be accused of being the Grinch that stole Christmas. We are all in favor of holiday parties, so long as they are done right. Here are our top ten (10) tips:

  1. Remind employees in advance of the Company's anti-harassment policy;

  2. No mistletoe;

  3. Limit alcohol;

    1. Consider no alcohol or using drink tickets

    2. Designate a member of management to monitor employees

    3. Have rides home available or remind employees to consider Uber/Lyft, etc.

    4. Consider day-time parties

  4. No slow dancing;

  5. No unsupervised speeches or skits;

  6. Avoid religious symbols and religious music;

  7. If during off hours, do not require attendance or there may be exposure to wage and hour claims;

  8. If exchanging gifts, instruct employees as to what is appropriate and no gag-gifts;

  9. When selecting a menu, make sure it is inclusive to accommodate religious needs, i.e. Kosher meals; and

  10. If all else fails, promptly investigate any claims!

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Harassment

New Jersey Sick Leave Law

June 13, 2018

New Jersey’s Sick Leave Law (the “Law”) takes effect on October 29, 2018. It establishes a uniform, state-wide law that pre-empts all municipal sick leave laws and prohibits the passage of similar, local laws.  

Who is Covered?
The Law applies to all NJ employees (full and part-time) and any business with NJ-based employees (regardless of size). The only exclusion are construction industry employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, per diem healthcare workers, and public employees who already receive this benefit.

How is Time Accrued?
Employees accrue one (1) hour of paid sick leave for every thirty (30) hours worked, up to forty (40) hours (five days) in a benefit year. Alternatively, an employer may "frontload" the entire forty (40) hours on the first day of a benefit year (as well as implement a more generous program).

A “benefit year” is any 12 consecutive months designated by the employer. Once established, an employer may only change the “benefit year” by first notifying the NJ DOL.

Sick leave benefits begin to accrue for:

  • Current employees, who have not already accrued sick leave under an existing policy or law, on October 29, 2018 (the effective date of the Law).
  • Employees hired after October 29, 2018 on the first date of employment. New employees may be required to wait 120 days after hire before “using” earned sick leave.

Carry Over?
Employers must either (a) allow up to 40 hours to carry over from one benefit year to the next or (b) pay employees for that time. It is the employee’s choice which alternative to accept.

Existing Policy?
Employers may comply with the Law if they already offer employees paid sick leave or paid time off (“PTO”) that accrues at a rate equal to or greater than one (1) hour of leave per 30 hours worked, and the policy is otherwise consistent with the Law.

“Sick Leave” Uses?
Earned sick leave may be used for:

  • Diagnosis, care or treatment of, recovery from and/or preventative care for an employee's own, or his/her family member’s, mental or physical illness or injury.
  • Absence due to a public health emergency that caused the closure of the employee’s workplace or the school or childcare facility of the employee’s child, or that requires a member of the employee’s family to seek care.
  • Absence to obtain medical treatment, legal services or to relocate related to an employee's or his/her family member's status as a victim of domestic or sexual violence.
  • To attend any school conferences requested or required by school staff to discuss a child's health condition or disability.

“Family members” is broadly defined to include an employee’s child, spouse, domestic partner, civil union partner, parent (including adoptive, foster or step-parent, or legal guardian), sibling (including foster or adoptive siblings), grandparent or grandchild, and the parent, grandparent or sibling of the employee’s spouse, domestic partner or civil union partner. Indeed, an employee may also use their sick leave for the care of a non-related individual whose close association with the employee is the “equivalent” of a family relationship.

What May Employers Do?

  • Require up to seven (7) days advance notice if an absence is “foreseeable,” and limit the use of “foreseeable” sick leave to certain dates.
  • Request notice “as soon as practicable” if an absence is “unforeseeable,” and the employee is aware of this requirement.
  • Request documentation to substantiate sick leave, but only if an employee is absent for 3 or more consecutive days.

Employer Obligations?
Employers must:

  • Notify current employees of their rights under the Law (by posting and distributing a notice) and new employees at the time of hire.
  • Maintain records of hours worked, and used, earned sick leave for 5 years.  (Failure to do so will result in a rebuttable assumption that the employer failed to allow employees to accrue time)

Employers are subject to private claims, and the penalties and remedies contained in the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, including fines and possible imprisonment.

Recommendations?
Employers with NJ-based employees should review and adjust their current paid time off policies to ensure compliance with the New Jersey Sick Leave Law prior to October 29, 2018. 

Attorney: Lauren Topelsohn
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Paid Sick Leave

Executive Order to Review Worker Misclassification in NJ

May 7, 2018

On May 3rd Governor Phil Murphy continued his efforts to protect workers in New Jersey by signing an Executive Order establishing a Task Force on Employee Misclassification. The Executive Order estimates that misclassification of workers may deprive New Jersey of over $500 million annually in tax revenue and deprive workers of employment related benefits and protections.

Employers have a duty to withhold social security, Medicare and unemployment taxes from employees’ paychecks.  Failing to do so could result in significant liability, including penalties and interest. 

Courts in New Jersey now apply the ABC Test when deciding whether workers are independent contractors under the New Jersey Wage Payment Law and the Wage and Hour Law.  Employers must show each of the following:

  1. That the worker is free from the Company’s control in performing the services;
  2. That the worker performs those services outside the usual course of the Company’s business or outside the Company’s place of business; and
  3. That the worker is engaged in an independently established business.

Similarly, the Internal Revenue Service now uses an eleven factor test that is a refinement of its previous twenty (20) factor test.  Its test looks at the extent of behavioral and financial control over the worker as well as the type of relationship (including whether benefits are provided and the permanency of the relationship.)

The Take-away for Employers:  Promptly review your relationship with all consultants and workers you treat as independent contractors using these stringent tests.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Wage & Hour

Governor Phil Murphy's first act as governor was to sign an executive order promoting equal pay for equal work by prohibiting state agencies from asking job applicants about their salary history

April 23, 2018

The Governor is now about to sign legislation amending the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) that will ban employers from paying women and other employees in a protected category less for “substantially similar work.” Rather than a two year statute of limitations, like other types of discrimination, this amendment provides for a six year statute of limitations for these pay disparity claims.  It also calls for treble (triple) damages.  The law also provides that employers cannot preclude employees from discussing their compensation.  Finally, it precludes employers from requiring employees to agree to a shorter statute of limitations for any claims under the NJLAD or to waive any other protections provided by that law.  A copy of the Bill is attached here.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Wage & Hour