N.J.: Lawmakers Considering New Employment Provisions

By Diane Cadrain Feb 12, 2015

New Jersey lawmakers are considering the following employment-related proposals:

Protections for unpaid interns. The Assembly Labor Committee has approved Senate Bill (SB) 539, which extends the coverage of New Jersey’s sex discrimination and sexual harassment laws to unpaid interns. Its supporters say that the bill would put New Jersey at the forefront of providing crucial protections to unpaid interns.

The impetus for the bill was the 2013 decision of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in the case of Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television. In that case, a New York federal district judge held that an unpaid intern, whose supervisor lured her to a hotel room allegedly to discuss her employment, then kissed and groped her, did not have standing to sue for sexual harassment because she did not have the status of a paid employee.

“This case exposed a gap in worker protection laws that likely exist in other states across the country,” said bill sponsor Sen. Nia Gill. “Essentially it found that unpaid interns, many of whom are working to gain experience or academic credit as they prepare for a career, are not provided the same legal protections as those who are paid. This is unacceptable and leaves these individuals open to harassment or other harmful workplace situations. We must ensure that all workers are protected, regardless of whether they are compensated financially. This will not only benefit interns but will ensure a healthy work environment for all workers.”

To protect unpaid interns, the bill would amend three state statutes: the Law Against Discrimination, which prohibits discrimination based on age, sex and race, and sexual harassment; the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, which protects whistleblowers from retaliatory action by an employer; and the Worker Freedom From Employer Intimidation Act, which prohibits intimidation relative to religious and political matters in the workplace.

New Jersey would become the second state in the nation to provide such protections to unpaid interns under the legislation. Oregon passed a similar law last June. New York City enacted similar legislation.

The Senate approved the bill in June 2014 by a vote of 35-1. Now that the Assembly Labor Committee has cleared it, the proposal next goes to the full Assembly for a vote.

Creating careers in manufacturing. Assembly Bill (AB) 3020 would require the Secretary of Higher Education to design a manufacturing career pathway to be offered through the county colleges and county vocational school districts. The program would provide the necessary skills to students who are interested in careers in manufacturing.

Bill supporters say that every new manufacturing job created would add another 1.6 jobs to the local service economy, and that every dollar in manufacturing sales adds another $1.34 to the economy.

To develop the program. the Secretary of Higher Education would work in consultation with the Commissioner of Education, the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, the New Jersey Council of County Vocational Schools and representatives from the business community.

The proposal has cleared the Assembly Labor Committee.

Paychecks for quarantined employees. The Assembly Labor Committee on Jan. 15, 2015, cleared AB 3949, which would guarantee paychecks to health care and emergency workers who are required to be quarantined. The proposal, which is a reaction to the spread of Ebola Fever, now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Online benefit claims for veterans. SB 2667 would allow the electronic filing of unemployment claims by anyone who has served in the military, worked for the federal government, or worked outside the State of New Jersey. In 2011, when state lawmakers approved electronic filing for jobless benefits, claimants in these groups were left out, and they have been required to apply by telephone or in person. This bill seeks to give all eligible claimants the same access to online certification. The Senate Labor Committee approved the bill on Jan. 26, 2015.

Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been writing about employment law issues for more than 20 years.

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