Yesterday, Democrat Phil Murphy won the race for New Jersey governor, easily defeating Republican Kim Guadagno. Democrats also retained their majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly.  When Murphy is sworn in next January, he will have the opportunity to change laws impacting the workplace.  Here are some areas for employers and employees in the Garden State to keep an eye on:

Raising the Minimum Wage

Murphy has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Last year, Democratic legislators introduced a bill that would have gradually increased New Jersey’s minimum wage from $8.38 to $15 per hour over a four-year period (as summarized by HR Legalist here).  Last summer, Governor Christie vetoed that bill.  With Murphy in the statehouse, the measure could be back on the table, and New Jersey could join California, New York, and the District of Columbia in making the move to $15 per hour.

Expanding Paid Family Leave

In July 2017, Murphy publicly urged Governor Christie to sign NJ A4927, a bill that would double New Jersey’s existing Paid Family Leave Insurance entitlement from 6 to 12 weeks, broaden the definition of family member, and increase the weekly benefit amount.  The bill would also prohibit employers from discharging, or otherwise discriminating or retaliating against employees who take leave, and would expand coverage to employers with 20 or more employees (as compared to the current 50-employee threshold).  Benefits would continue to be funded through the FLI payroll deduction.

Governor Christie vetoed the bill, citing its potential cost to taxpayers and burdens on small businesses.  However, the bill (or a similar one) could see new life under the Murphy administration.

Stronger Equal Pay Measures

Murphy has also promised aggressive reforms to ensure equal pay for women in the workforce, including strengthening penalties for wage discrimination, barring employers from asking applicants about their salary history, and prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who discuss pay issues.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and Equal Pay Act already prohibit gender-based pay discrimination, but there are a number of potential measures that could make these claims easier to prove and more lucrative for employees and their attorneys. For example, in 2016, Governor Christie vetoed a bill (S992) that would have allowed employees to pursue claims of back pay for an open-ended time period, required employers to prove that any pay differential was based on factors other than sex, and required employers with State contracts to report demographic information to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia and other cities and states have already passed laws prohibiting employers from asking about an applicant’s wage history.  It appears that Murphy will support similar measures if they are introduced in New Jersey.

Legal Recreational Marijuana

Murphy has been vocal in his support for legal recreational marijuana use in New Jersey. State legislators have already expressed support for legalizing and taxing the drug, but have postponed introducing a bill given Governor Christie’s promise to veto any legalization effort.  With the news of Murphy’s election, supporters of legalization, including Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Nicholas Scutari, have indicated that they intend to present a legalization bill to the governor-elect next year.  While it is not yet clear whether the bill would include employment protections for recreational users, at least one pending bill (A2482) would protect medical users from adverse employment actions such as termination.  As previously covered by HR Legalist, New Jersey’s current medical marijuana law is silent on whether or not employers can terminate employees based on legal off-duty use, while Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act includes some limited protections for certified medical users.  These ambiguities, which have yet to be resolved by the courts, can raise thorny issues for employers who rely on drug testing to keep their workplaces safe.

Takeaways

Phil Murphy’s election could allow employment-related legislation that was previously blocked by Governor Christie to be signed into law as early as 2018. HR Legalist will continue to track these issues as they continue to develop.  Employers with questions about these potential new laws, or existing employment-related laws and regulations, should contact a New Jersey employment attorney.


Ivo Becica- 3394Ivo Becica focuses his practice on advising employers on how to reduce litigation risk and resolve employee issues, and on defending employers in litigation if necessary. He can be reached at 215-667-6335 or ivo.becica@obermayer.com