New Jersey Passes Sweeping Equal Pay Law, Explores Sick Leave Mandate

New Jersey Passes Sweeping Equal Pay Law, Explores Sick Leave Mandate

New Jersey’s state legislature on Monday passed what supporters are calling the strongest pay equity legislation yet enacted by any state in the US, NorthJersey.com’s Catherine Carrera and Nicholas Pugliese report:

The bill passed Monday, A-1, would allow victims of discrimination to recoup up to six years’ worth of back pay, up from two under current law. Damages that are proved could be tripled, and the bill would permit lawsuits not just by women but by any group covered under the state’s Law Against Discrimination, such as racial or sexual minorities.

It would also give employees a better chance at prevailing in pay discrimination cases, said Andrea Johnson, senior council for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center. Workers would have to prove they are being paid unfairly for “substantially similar” work, a change from the existing standard of “equal pay for equal work.”

“There are a lot of courts that have interpreted equal work in a very narrow way to mean basically identical work,” Johnson said. “So there’s some language added to the law just to make sure that courts are doing a deeper analysis into the justification. We see too many cases thrown out for reasons that actually might be sex-based.”

The Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, named after a recently retired Republican state senator who experienced age and gender discrimination during her career in broadcast journalism, passed the state Senate unanimously and the Assembly 74–2, with two Morris County Republicans voting against it. Assemblymen Michael Patrick Carroll, one of the two “no” votes, said it would lead to endless litigation.

The bill, which Governor Phil Murphy is expected to sign imminently, makes it illegal for employers to prevent employees from discussing their pay with others, but does not prohibit asking candidates about their salary histories as part of the process of negotiating pay, as some other states and cities have done in their pay equity laws. In his first official act after taking office this January, Murphy issued an executive order barring state agencies from asking for salary histories. A bill prohibiting them statewide was passed in the New Jersey legislature last summer, but was vetoed by Republican governor Chris Christie. It is not clear why this provision was excluded from the bill passed Monday or whether such a ban will be included in future legislation.

Also on Monday, the Assembly passed a bill that would require all private employers in the state to provide paid sick leave to both full-time and part-time employees. This bill, another legislative initiative that was stalled under Christie’s administration, entitles workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked and to accrue up to 40 hours annually. Employees begin to accrue this time as soon as they begin work but are not eligible to use it until the 120th calendar day of their employment. Employers with all-purpose paid time off policies are considered compliant with the law as long as their employees’ PTO accrues at a rate equal to or greater than that mandated by the law.

According to NorthJersey.com, the bill faces opposition from business groups, while the health care industry pushed for an exemption for per diem health care workers who work for hospital systems as substitutes for temporarily absent employees. Murphy has expressed support for the bill and is expected to sign it if it passes the Senate as well.