Employers and Employees
In NJ you can begin work at 16 with a workers permit from your local town. There are restrictions to the number of hours and the time span. Work cannot interfere with school. Once you are 18 you are free to contract with any employer. An employer is someone who hires you to work. Work can be as needed, part time with specific hours or full time. Usually full time work is 35-40 hours per week. Employers do not have to provide benefits, but they cannot give benefits to some and not to others. Usually benefits begin when you work over a certain number of hours and have completed a probation period (which can be 3 months for full time employees and 6 months for part time ones).
Pay and Benefits
You must be paid for the time you work. You must be paid at least the minimum wage. If you are an hourly employee, you must be paid time and a half if you work pass the normal full time schedule. Payroll can be weekly or bi weekly. Certain deductions are permitted by law, Most jobs have a deduction for income tax (federal and state), social security, state income tax, state unemployment benefits and usually some form of temporary disability benefits. A failure to pay you is a violation of the law and can be reported to the State Department of Labor, Wage and Hours Division. Refusing to pay overtime is also a violation of the law and can also be reported. Taking money out of your check for payroll deductions and not paying them to the government is a serious violation of the law and employers can be jailed for doing this.
Bargaining Unit - the Union
Some jobs have an authorized bargaining unit, a union which represents the workers, The union has a contract with the employer which spells out the rights of the worker including rate of pay, rate of overtime, specific vacation, holiday, and sick pay. There are rules for discipline, dismissal, grievance hearing, etc. Many people assume they have legal rights which are in union contracts. If you are a salaried employee (no OT, professional or supervisory role) the benefits are at the discretion of the company. Most companies write into the employee booklet what benefits exist, but there is no right to them outside of a union contract. Of course most companies also realize that if they offer no benefits none of the good employees will work for them.
Employment at Will
If you are not a union employee, you are hired at will, fired at will, This means the employer can dismiss you for no reason whatsoever. In some cases, an employer may have violated the Law Against Discrimination (LAD-see below). NJ is an employment at will state. You are free to leave at any time and the company is free to dismiss you at any time. If your dismissal is because of lack of work or reduction in staff, you are eligible for unemployment. If you were dismissed "for cause" such as insubordination, damage to property, assault on employer or fellow worker, excessive absenteeism, then the state can refuse unemployment benefits. This can be disputed by filing an appeal with the state department of labor.
The Law Against Discrimination (LAD)
The law protects workers from unjust dismissals which are based on age, race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, national origin. Sometimes a company claims it is dismissing a worker because of poor performance and it turns out the dismissal is for an illegal reason. Such dismissals can be litigated, although most often they are settled. If an employee is making $50,000 a year and could work ten years the dispute is about $500,000 plus emotional distress and is well worth fighting. If the employee is making a minimum wage, and can get a similar job in two weeks, it is not worth fighting even if what was done was illegal.
Covenants Not to Compete; COBRA,ERISA
Professionals may sign a covenant not to compete with rules which bind the employee both during -after their time at work. They include secret procedures, proprietary information, client list, can't work for a competitor. Reasonable covenants are limited to a certain amount of time and place. One is not required to follow a covenant saying one can never work for a competitor anywhere in the world; one which limits the employee from working in the same field in the same county for 2 years might be reasonable. A court will not enforce an unreasonable covenant. Post dismissal COBRA permits an employee to continue medical care, but he now make his own payments. Anyone who has a family member who needs medical attention should opt for COBRA. There is a limited time to opt for COBRA, which can stop once the employee has a new job and the benefits have resumed. ERISA protects the employee's pension. Post dimissal it can be transferred to an IRA or the new job pension plan.
Discipline, warnings, grievance procedure
When a dispute arises between management and the work staff, the employee booklet normally spells out how it is handled. For example, one person may be designated to handle complaints of sexual harassment. For union employees, the usual procedure is to discuss the issue with a shop steward, and then this can be followed by a grievance committee meeting. Most rules consider the first grievance committee meeting informal and no legal representative can attend. It is important to follow the procedure because if the matter goes to court, the judge will want to see an effort to resolve the dispute according to the rules. An employee is free to contact a lawyer at any time, but most employment lawyers would want the employee to follow the usual procedure before going into litigation. Because litigation is so expensive for both sides, many of these matters are settled and the parties are required to keep the terms confidential.
Work related injury
If an employee is injured on the job, the employee does NOT sue the employer. The procedure in NJ is to file a workers compensation claim. The claim begins the procedure by which the worker's injuries are treated by doctors at no cost. The employee must use authorized w/c medical providers. If the worker is out for more than 1 week, a weekly salary payment is made (it is not the full usual salary). If the employee believes he or she needs more help, they can file a w/c petition. The worker is called a petitioner, and the employer a respondent. The w/c court is an administrative division of the state department of labor. It has the authority to award medical benefits, temporary salary, and a permanency award for a job related injury. The attorney does not take a fee from the client, but is awarded a portion of the permanency award by the w/c court.The judge usually assesses some portion from the employer and some from the worker.
Third Party Liability and Workers Compensation Liens
In some cases there might be another party involved in liability for the work-related injury. For example, another company came in to the workplace to clean the floors and the employee slipped and fell on the wax left there. So the injury is both work-related and caused by another. There can be a lawsuit for personal injury against the third party. Sometimes a lawyer will decide not to pursue this because a percentage of the award is due back to the w/c insurance carrier. For example if the jury awards the injured worker $50,000 and the w/c carrier has paid $40,000 in medical care, $20,000 in temporary benefits and $30,000 in permanency the authorized w/c lien might well be equal to the verdict, leaving nothing for the petitioner.
If you have been laid off because of lack of work, reduction in staff, you are entitled to unemployment benefits. The application is made to the Unemployment Office of the State Department of Labor. If the employer for any reason disputes this application (claiming you quit, were fired for cause, or insubordination), you can file an appeal. For the most part, the state is on the side of the employee. Even if there is a decision to agree with the employer, in most cases after a six week wait, benefits will begin. You must report part time employment to the UI. That does not mean you benefits stop, there is usually a modification. Full time employment normally stops the benefits. Self employment income normally does not have to be reported. If you are denied at the local level, you can file a second appeal with the state. Depending on the reasons for the denial, you might want to hire a lawyer for this appeal.