The HR Specialist: New Jersey Employment Law

Here’s something to consider when deciding whether to settle a case. An oral agreement may be binding even if the parties never actually signed a written version. It’s a contract as long as the parties clearly agreed to the essential terms.

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A federal jury in Newark has awarded $2.5 million in damages to 343 sales managers employed by office superstore Staples. The court determined the retailer misclassified the managers as exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act when they were not.

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Fourteen employees of a Costco store in Hackensack took recycling a bit too far when they started reusing customer coupons for free fabric softener and dryer sheets. The employees wound up paying a high price for their “free” loot. When investigators brought the matter to the attention of store manager Sami Nasr, he fired all 14 employees.

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Employers that use arbitration clauses can often get lawsuits sent to an arbitrator for faster and less expensive resolution—but only if they are prepared to prove that their employees agreed to arbitration.

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Employers have to make reasonable accommodations for employees or applicants who have disabilities—and those accommodations may include assignment to an open position. But if the underlying reason for an employee’s request to transfer to an open position is that a medical provider recommended a shorter commute, you don’t have to make the accommodation.

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Timing is everything in discrimination suits. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2008 that an employee could effectively file a discrimination complaint simply by completing an EEOC intake document, employers have learned they can’t rely on the date stamped on the actual EEOC complaint form as the official deadline date.

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A federal jury in Trenton has awarded $10,000 to a man denied a job at UPS because he refused to shave off his one-inch beard. Roniss Mason of Jersey City claimed shaving violated his Rastafarian religious beliefs and filed a complaint with the EEOC.

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When planning a reduction in force, it’s natural to decide who should stay and who should go by ranking employees based on the skills you’ll need after downsizing. Before managers start ranking employees, make sure they understand not to use temporary medical problems and their consequences as a reason for deciding to terminate an employee.

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It’s a fact that employees who think they are in trouble will look for ways to avoid termination—or profit from it. So it should come as no surprise if an employee files an EEOC discrimination complaint after you discipline him and warn that he may soon be terminated.

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Gov. Jon Corzine’s concerted effort to reform workers’ compensation appears to be bearing fruit. In 2009, benefits will rise to a maximum of $773 per week while employer premiums will fall approximately 1%.

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