Two new laws in New Jersey are a balancing act between businesses and employees

by DLA Piper
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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promised to promote economic activity and job creation. Recent legislative activity illustrates how he is striking the balance between making New Jersey business-friendly and protecting the state’s employees.  

His earlier vetoes of harsher versions of social media and pay equity laws resulted in final legislation on those topics that is narrowed in scope. In addition, Governor Christie vetoed legislation that could have caused economic harm to the trucking industry and ports in New Jersey. 

For business, there is more to do but no onerous burdens in the enacted laws. 

Social media law – account disclosure issues

New Jersey’s social media law prohibits employers from requesting user names or passwords to personal social networking sites from employees or applicants.  It also forbids retaliation, protecting those who refuse such banned requests. 

Yet, this law is not a complete ban.  It clarifies that employers are free to review and use information about current or prospective employees on social media websites in the public domain. It also provides an exception for  investigations to ensure compliance with workplace misconduct rules or relating to the unauthorized transfer of confidential or financial information if  that investigation is “based on the receipt of specific information about activity in a personal account by an employee.”    

Although no private right of action exists, New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development has enforcement authority and the ability to assess civil penalties of $1,000 for a first violation and up to $2,500 for subsequent violations of the social media law. 

Pay equity law – employee requests for information

New Jersey’s pay equity measure amends the Law Against Discrimination to prohibit employers from taking reprisals against employees who request information from current or former colleagues about job titles, occupational category, compensation (including benefits), gender, race, ethnicity, military status or national origin, so long as the purpose of the request is for investigating or taking legal action concerning compensation discrimination.  

Simply stated, this new law is intended to allow employees to freely discuss the terms and conditions of their jobs to uncover and combat pay discrimination. It protects asking but does not require telling; indeed, it specifically states that it shall not be construed as requiring an employee or former employee to disclose such information. 

Vetoed: truck driver misclassification legislation

Governor Christie vetoed proposed legislation involving the classification of port and package delivery truck drivers. The bill would have erected a legal presumption that such drivers were employees (and not independent contractors) of the businesses for which they perform services.  

Proponents of the bill argued that the legislation was necessary to compel compliance with tax, workers’ compensation, and unemployment benefits laws.  Yet, this proposal far overreached those goals.  For example, it included criminal penalties for those enterprises unable to surmount this newly-invented presumption, even if the misclassification was not willful.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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