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In McClain v Board of Review, Patricia McClain had been a teacher at the Learning Edge Academy, in Galloway Township. On Oct. 12, 2015, she accepted an offer to teach at another school, in Egg Harbor, to start within seven days after she left her former employer. Unfortunately, a day after McClain quit her job at the Learning Edge, her job offer at  Kids Choice was rescinded.  As it turned out, the teacher she was supposed to replace, returned to the school, thus eliminating the need for the new position, and a new job for Ms. McClain.

Ms. McClain, now finding herself unemployed, applied for unemployment benefits, for which she was denied by the State Department of Labor’s Board of Review.

In August 2017, the Appellate Division reversed and granted Ms. McClain her unemployment benefits ruling that the worker doesn’t lose out on benefits if, for a reason not of his or her own doing, finds that the second job disappears, or is no longer available.  This ruling is a result of an amendment to the unemployment compensation statute, which makes Ms. McClain eligible for unemployment benefits if the new job starts within a seven-day period after the previous one ends.  This ruling was totally opposite to an earlier appeals court ruling that denied benefits to a petitioner in similar circumstances.

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Our New Jersey employment law office routinely receives inquiries from unemployed workers who are denied their claim for unemployment benefits after needing to leave their job as a result of a medical condition.  In some situations, the worker should be entitled to unemployment benefits, while in others, they should not receive them.  The answer to this inquiry is not always straight forward.

A worker must show that although they can no longer perform their current job because of the medical condition, they are able to medically work in another job position. In other words, they are not disabled.  Instead, they have a medical condition that prevents them from performing the essential functions of their current employment.

Under New Jersey Unemployment Law, a person will be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits if he or she leaves work voluntarily and without good cause attributable to such work.  The burden is on the unemployed worker to prove he or she left their employment for good cause attributable to such work.  Good cause attributable to the work has been defined as cause sufficient to justify the employee’s voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed.

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A recent New Jersey Appellate Court has confirmed that an employee has good cause to leave her job and be eligible for unemployment benefits if the reason for quitting is because she was continuously sexually harassed for an extended period of time.

In the case of Gerard v. Board of Review, decided September 12, 2017, the claimant Jamielyn Gerard worked as an administrative assistant for Surface Source International, Inc. (SSI) from February 2008 until she resigned in April 2014. According to Ms. Gerard, the warehouse manager continuously called her names, swore at her and used many derogatory terms after she witnessed and confronted him making out with her supervisor in the warehouse. After she confronted her manager about what she saw, the warehouse manager started having a vendetta against her. The warehouse manager had a vendetta against her called her “[m]any verbal names; anything he could say to hurt me. He was commenting on the type of clothes I was wearing, the type of underwear I had on. He . . . stole personal property out of my desk, he vandalized my desk. He physically harassed me[.] [H]e touched me from behind, he had grabbed me. We . . . got into a physical altercation where he took me and slammed me into his desk.” Ms. Gerard further testified, “And he has done so much things to me, and I have continuously met with them and spoke with them and told them all this, and . . . they never did anything to help the situation.” SSI’s owner told her “that the devil he knows is better than the devil he doesn’t know . . . even though he was harassing me and tormenting me.”

Ms. Gerard’s testimony that she made complaints to the company was admitted by SSI. In fact, Ms. Gerard’s manager testified that Ms. Gerard complained that she had been physically and verbally harassed, but excused SSI’s failure to properly investigate stating when the company confronted the warehouse manager, he would say that he “didn’t do anything.” The manager further testified the owner personally met with the manager and the company wrote him up after he slammed his Ms. Gerard into his desk. Even this undisputed testimony was not enough for the Appeal Tribunal to find that Ms. Gerard had good cause to leave the hostile work environment directed at her.

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The New Jersey Appellate Division recently found that a claimant should be eligible for unemployment benefits for weeks that she attempted to claim unemployment benefits but was unable to do so due to the Division of Unemployment and not due to any fault of her own.

In the case of Smith v. Board of Review, the employee, Conchita Smith, was laid off from her job with the United States House of Representatives on March 15, 2013.  Despite being terminated a month early, Ms. Smith waited until April 21, 2013 to file for unemployment benefits.  Ms. Smith claimed that she was waiting for her employer’s instructions on how to file for unemployment benefits, although she admitted that she was familiar with the unemployment process.  After being found eligible for unemployment benefits, Ms. Smith failed to report her claim for unemployment every two weeks and, as a result, was found to be ineligible for benefits for those weeks.  However, during at least some of the weeks, Ms. Smith claimed that she was unable to report her claim due reasons caused by the Division of Unemployment and through no fault of her own.  For example, Ms. Smith claimed that she was placed on hold for inordinate periods of time (only to be disconnected) and the online system persistently rejected her Personal Information Number that had been provided her to contact the Division and report her claim for unemployment benefits.

The Court ruled in Ms. Smith’s favor by remanding the matter back to the Appeal Tribunal for further proceedings regarding her eligibility for unemployment benefits for the weeks in which Ms. Smith attempted to reach the Division but was unable to do so through no fault of her own.   The Court found that Ms. Smith should be entitled to unemployment benefits for any weeks she was unable to claim due to the fault of the Division of unemployment.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit has affirmed a New Jersey District Court’s decision denying post-trial motion for judgment by Walmart after the jury entered a verdict against them in favor of a former employer.  The former employee, Barry Boles, claimed that he was unlawfully terminated by Walmart in retaliation for taking medical leave because of his disability.  The jury agreed, and found Walmart liable for back pay damages in the amount of $130,000, emotional distress damages in the amount of $10,000, punitive damages in the amount of $60,000 and attorney fees and costs in the amount of $200,000.  Walmart appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals.

In this case entitled, Barry Boles v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the employee Mr. Boles had worked for Walmart for many years.  Mr. Boles first went out on a medical leave on May 8, 2011, after going to the emergency room for a large blister on his leg.  The large blister progressed into a five or six inch ulcer requiring Mr. Boles to take an extended medical leave of absence.  Walmart eventually placed Mr. Boles on medical leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act from June 22, 2011 through September 10, 2011.  During his FMLA leave, Mr. Boles’ treating doctor provided a certification that advised Walmart that Mr. Boles would not be able to return to work until October/November, 2011.

On October 23, 2011, Mr. Boles returned to work, but learned that he could not log onto his computer.  Mr. Boles attempted to reach out to the Market Human Resource Manager, Quawad McDonald, to find out his status, but his attempts were ignored by Mr. McDonald.  Finally, on or about October 29, 2011, Mr. Boles received a letter from Mr. McDonald advising him that he had been terminated as of October 25, 2011 for “failure to return” to work.

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The U.S. Labor Department has proposed new rules that include increasing the minimum salary threshold level for executive, administrative and professional exemptions and the minimum total annual compensation level for the “highly compensated employee” exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The new proposal would raise the minimum salary thresholds to $970 a week (i.e. $50,440 a year) from the current $455 per work ($23,660 a year).  The passing of this new rule, which is expected, would amount to a huge victory for employees across the country.

The present $455 salary threshold has not been updated since 2004 and has left certain low salaried managerial or office work workers in an unfair situation of being exempt from receiving overtime pay.  In announcing the proposed overtime rules change, the US Department of Labor specifically identified jobs such as convenience store managers and fast food assistant managers as being required to work 50-60 (or more) hours a week and be compensated as little as $23,660 a year, which is less than the poverty level for a family of four.  These employees can be paid a minimum salary of $23,660, and not be paid any additional compensation for overtime hours worked. It has been estimated the change in law will help 5 million workers become overtime eligible and will increase employees’ wages across the country by $1.3 billion.  The US Department of Labor has submitted the change to the Office Management and Budget (OMB), The OMB has 30 to 90 days to review and then publish the rules in the federal register as final.

In addition to increasing the salary threshold, the US Department of Labor has also proposed to increase the total annual compensation requirement needed to exempt highly compensated employees to $122,148 annually and to establish a mechanism to automatically update the future salary and compensation levels.

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The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that an employee can show they suffered from a disability (as defined by the law) through the testimony of their treating physician.  This is a significant win for victims of disability discrimination, who often do not have the finances to pay for expensive medical expert testimony necessary for their case.

In the matter of Delvecchio v. Township of Bridgewater, the employee claimed she was unlawfully terminated on the basis of disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.  The employee was employed as a dispatcher for the Township of Bridgewater and developed inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), panic attacks and anxiety during her employment, which she claimed required certain accommodations from her employer.   On September 16, 2009, the town terminated the employee’s employment, claiming neglect of duty and chronic/excessive absences, after the employer denied her requests for accommodations.  At trial, the court prohibited the employee from having her treating physician testify to her diagnosis and treatment.  As a result of the court’s adverse evidentiary ruling, the employee was unable to offer evidence showing she was disabled, which resulted in her losing her entire case.

The case was based upon disability discrimination which his prohibited under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.  The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits unlawful discrimination based on a disability unless the nature and extent of the disability reasonably precludes the performance of the job position.  An employee suing under the LAD must prove, inter alia, that he or she was disabled as defined in the act.  When the disability is not readily apparent, an employee must present expert medical evidence to assist the jury in understanding whether the condition alleged is a disability under the law

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It is surprising for many independent sales representatives to learn that there are specific laws in place to protect the recovery of their unpaid sales commissions from their principal.  In fact, many independent sales representatives equate an unpaid sales commission to that of an unsecured debt, often simply writing off the unpaid sales commission as an uncollectable debt, not worth their time, money or other resources in trying to recover from the principal.  In their view, they believe they will spend more money on an attorney trying to recover the unpaid sale commission than the amount the debt is worth in the first place.  As a result, the independent sales representative will simply abandon their hard earned unpaid sales commission.

Unbeknownst to a lot of independent sales representatives, many states have laws impose significant penalties against principals who fail to pay sales commissions.  In fact, some states have laws that have stronger protection to independent sales representatives’ from receiving unpaid sales commissions than are in place for employees from receiving his or her unpaid wages.  In New Jersey, for example, our legislature has enacted The Independent Sales Representative Rights Act, which provides for payment of all unpaid commissions, treble damages in an amount three times of the unpaid sales commission, as well as attorney fees and costs of suit against principals who fail to timely pay their independent sales representatives their earned sales commission.  This means that if you are an independent sales representative who is owed a sales commission in the amount of $2,000, you could recover up to $8,000 for the unpaid sales commission and all attorney fees and costs incurred in attempting to recover the debt.  Many other states outside New Jersey have a similar law in place.  The remedies provided under laws like New Jersey Sales Representative Rights Act encourage law firms like ours to take unpaid sales commission cases on a contingency basis.  This means in most of our cases, our attorneys do not get paid for any of the legal work they perform unless the independent sales representative gets paid the sales commission.

It is important for all independent sales representatives to know their rights in connection with recovering unpaid sales commissions.  If you are an independent sales representative, who has not been paid an earned sales commission, I strongly encourage you to reach to our firm or an attorney familiar with your particular states unpaid sales commission law, to discuss your options in recovering your hard earned sales commission.

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The New Jersey Appellate Division has ruled that an employee is not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits for refusing to submit to a flu vaccination policy for purely secular reasons.

In the case of June G. Valent v. Board of Review, Department of Labor, the employee, Ms. Valent, was employed as a Registered Nurse with Hackettstown Community Hospital (“the Hospital”) from May 11, 2009 through her termination on January 2, 2011. On September 21, 2010, the Hospital’s corporate entity, Adventist Health Care, Inc., implemented a “Health Care Worker Flu Prevention Plan” that required their employees to have a flu vaccine unless there was a documented medical or religious exemption.

Ms. Valant refused to be vaccinated with the flu shot and did not provide her employer with any medical or religious reason.   Although Ms. Valant offered to wear a mask during flu season as a concession for not having to be vaccinated, the Hospital declined her offer and terminated her employment on the basis that she violated her employer’s flu vaccination policy.  If terminating Ms. Valant was not enough, the Hospital then challenged Ms. Valant’s claim for unemployment benefits by claiming that she committed misconduct (“improper, intentional, connected with one’s work, malicious, and within the individual’s control, and is either a deliberate violation of the employer’s rule or a disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of an employee.”) in her refusal to permit her employer to inject her with the flu vaccination.  The Appeal Tribunal rejected this argument and found that Ms. Valant’s refusal to follow an employer’s policy that “was not unreasonable” and approved her claim for unemployment benefits.  The Board of Review, however, reversed the Appellate Division and disqualified Ms. Valant on the basis of simple misconduct.  In the decision, the Board of Review found that the hospital’s policy requiring flu vaccinations was not unreasonable, and therefore Ms. Valant should be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.

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For the second time this year, the New Jersey Appellate Court has reverse and remanded a Board of Review decision disqualifying a claimant from receiving New Jersey unemployment benefits on the basis of severe misconduct. This is yet another reminder how necessary it is for the New Jersey legislature to enact a clear definition of what constitutes severe misconduct under New Jersey unemployment law.

In 2010, the New Jersey legislature created a new classification of misconduct called severe misconduct. Prior to 2010, there were only two types of misconduct, which were gross misconduct and misconduct (which was changed to simple misconduct with the enactment of severe misconduct). Gross misconduct occurs when an individual is terminated because they committed a crime of the first, second, third or fourth degree under the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. Simple misconduct occurs when an individual is terminated because he or she committed an act that is “improper, intentional, connected with one’s work, malicious, and within the individual’s control, and is either a deliberate violation of the employer’s rules or a disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of an employee.”

In creating the new classification, the legislature did not define “severe misconduct.” Instead, the 2010 amendment sets forth a list of examples of what constitutes severe misconduct, which includes the catch-all example, “where the behavior is malicious and deliberate but is not considered gross misconduct.” This “malicious and deliberate” catch-all example is, in fact, a lesser standard than the definition of simple misconduct, which has been the cause of the Department of Labor’s confusion and as to how to apply the law for over the last three years.