On May 3, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order (“Order”) establishing a Task Force on Employee Misclassification (“Task Force”) to address concerns surrounding the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. The Order estimates that misclassification may deprive New Jersey of over $500 million yearly in tax revenue and deprive workers of employment-related benefits and protections to which they are entitled.

The Task Force’s mandate is to provide advice and recommendations to the Governor’s Office and Executive Branch Departments and agencies on both strategies and actions to fight misclassification, including:

  1. Examining and evaluating existing misclassification enforcement by executive departments and agencies;
  2. Developing best practices by departments and agencies to increase coordination of information and efficient enforcement;
  3. Developing recommendations to foster compliance with the law, including by educating employers, workers, and the public about misclassification; and
  4. Conducting a review of existing law and applicable procedures related to misclassification.

The Task Force will be comprised of at least 12 members, including three representatives from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development; three representatives from the Department of the Treasury; and one representative each from the Department of Law and Public Safety, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Banking and Insurance, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Transportation, and the Economic Development Authority.

The Order calls for the Task Force to organize and meet as soon as possible to begin its work and is a likely harbinger of increased governmental audits and enforcement actions. Accordingly, the time is ripe for employers to review their policies and practices with respect to consultants and other independent contractors to ensure they meet New Jersey’s stringent ABC Test for classification of independent contractors, which we have previously discussed.

Our colleagues , at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to many of our readers: “New Jersey’s Appellate Division Finds Part C of the “ABC” Independent Contractor Test Does Not Require an Independent Business

Following is an excerpt:

In a potentially significant decision following the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in Hargrove v. Sleepy’s, LLC, 220 N.J. 289 (2015), a New Jersey appellate panel held, in Garden State Fireworks, Inc. v. New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“Sleepy’s”), Docket No. A-1581-15T2, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2468 (App. Div. Sept. 29, 2017), that part C of the “ABC” test does not require an individual to operate an independent business engaged in the same services as that provided to the putative employer to be considered an independent contractor. Rather, the key inquiry for part C of the “ABC” test is whether the worker will “join the ranks of the unemployed” when the business relationship ends. …

Read the full post here.

In Moon et al v. Breathless, Inc., the Third Circuit reviewed the dismissal of a class and collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law and the New Jersey Wage Payment Law.  The District Court for the District of New Jersey had dismissed the named plaintiff’s claims based on an arbitration clause in the written agreement between the her and Breathless, the club where she worked as a dancer.

In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that she and other dancers were misclassified as independent contractors, and that Breathless unlawfully failed to pay them minimum wages and overtime pay.

In response, Breathless pointed to an agreement signed by the plaintiff stating that she was an independent contractor and not an employee. Breathless moved for summary judgment based on language in the agreement stating: “In a dispute between [the plaintiff and Breathless] under this Agreement, either may request to resolve the dispute by binding arbitration.”

The Third Circuit noted that, under New Jersey law, there is a presumption that a court will decide any issues concerning arbitrability. Finding no evidence to overcome that presumption, the Circuit Court proceeded to decide whether the plaintiff was required to submit her class and collective action claims to arbitration.

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s decisions in Garfinkel v. Morristown Obstetrics & Gynecology Assocs. and Atalese v. U.S. Legal Servs. Grp. were determinative of the scope of the arbitration agreement in this case, concluded the Third Circuit.

In Garfinkel, the arbitration provision in a contract stated it applied to “any controversy or claim arising out of, or relating to, this Agreement or the breach thereof.”  That language that suggested that the parties intended to arbitrate only those disputes “involving a contract term, a condition of employment, or some other element of the contract itself.”  Accordingly, the plaintiff in Garfinkel was not compelled to arbitrate his statutory claims.

In Atalese, the arbitration provision in a service agreement covered “any claim or dispute … related to this Agreement or related to any performance of any services related to this Agreement.”  That language “did not clearly and unambiguously signal to plaintiff that she was surrendering her right to pursue her statutory claims in court,” and therefore the plaintiff was not required to arbitrate those claims.

By contrast, the New Jersey Supreme Court required the arbitration of statutory claims in Martindale v. Sandvik, Inc., where the arbitration clause in an employment agreement stated that plaintiff agreed to waive her “right to a jury trial in any action or proceeding related to [her] employment…”

Because the arbitration agreement in the plaintiff’s agreement with Breathless applied to disputes “under this Agreement,” without reference to statutory wage claims, the Third Circuit applied Garfinkel and Atalese to conclude that Moon was not required to arbitrate her statutory claims under the FLSA and New Jersey law.

The award of summary judgment in favor of Breathless was therefore reversed, and the case was remanded to the District Court.

While the laws of other states may vary, the Third Circuit’s decision suggests that, at the very least, employers in New Jersey should expressly reference statutory wage claims in arbitration provisions if they intend to have statutory wage claims arbitrated.

By: Michael D. Thompson

ESPN broadcaster Keith Olbermann recently held a mock press conference in which he pretended to be the new Commissioner of Baseball, and explained how he would improve the game in that role.  For example, World Series games would start early enough for kids to watch them, the designated hitter would be eliminated, and Vin Scully would call all World Series games.

I’d like to do something similar.  I am pleased to inform you that, for the rest of this blog entry, let’s assume that I am the new Secretary of Labor.

Effective immediately:

  1. An employer’s liability to inadvertently misclassified employees will be limited to half-time (rather than time-and-a-half) if the employer has a published policy, and receives a signed acknowledgment, stating: “I understand that my salary is intended to compensate me for all hours worked in any given workweek.”
  2. If an individual has an independently-established business, he or she is an independent contractor. Case closed. Anyone who has the wherewithal to set up his or her own business is capable of making a decision about whether the terms of a business relationship are acceptable.
  3. New Jersey’s child labor law exception allowing minors under the age of 16 to work as beekeepers is preempted by a new federal regulation to the contrary. Okay, this one does not come up much.  But do we really want a law that says a 15-year old can be left in charge of a charge of a swarm of bees?  That sounds like a Hitchcock movie.
  4. The “professional” exemption’s focus on jobs held by employees who get their advanced knowledge in school is expanded.  The exemption now extends explicitly to jobs requiring “knowledge of an advanced type customarily acquired through five or more years of on-the-job experience.”
  5. Employers do NOT have to pay employees who only worked overtime because they played fantasy football or shopped online during regular hours.
  6. The “administrative” exemption will now be called the “independent judgment” exemption, and will apply to any employee with a salary of at least $800 per week who normally exercises discretion and independent judgment. The part of the “administrative” exemption requiring that the employee’s primary duty must be administrative in nature is eliminated because the Courts never seemed clear on how to apply it.

Let’s get to work.

 

 

 

 

by Michael D. Thompson

New Jersey voters have approved a ballot question that will raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour, and to provide for future increases based on changes in the consumer price index.

After Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the minimum wage increase earlier this year, both houses of the New Jersey Legislature approved a referendum on the issue.  Accordingly, voters were asked: 

Do you approve amending the State Constitution to set a State minimum wage rate of at least $8.25 per hour? The amendment also requires annual increases in that rate if there are annual increases in the cost of living.

Sixty-one percent of voters answered “yes.”

Based on the referendum, the New Jersey Constitution will be amended to require employers to pay employees $8.25 per hour as of January 1, 2014.  Furthermore, “on September 30 of each subsequent year, the State minimum wage rate shall be increased effective the following January 1 by any increase … in the consumer price index for all urban wage earners and clerical workers…”

In the event of an increase in the federal minimum wage, the New Jersey minimum wage “shall be immediately increased to the level of the federal minimum wage,” and that rate will subsequently adjusted upwards based on changes in the consumer price index.