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        Table of Contents - Introduction - Health Issues - Family Issues
       
Financial Security - Immigration - Violence Against Women
       
Discrimination & Employment Issues - Basic Needs - Appendix

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The Law
     The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits unfair treatment because you are a woman (or because of your race, age, marital status, religion, nationality or national origin, color, physical or mental handicap, sexual preference, or veteran status). This means, for example, that you cannot be subjected to discrimination in housing, employment or use of public accommodations because you are a woman (or unmarried or a lesbian).

Housing
     Prohibitions against housing discrimination apply both to buying or renting a house. There is an exception for rental places with less than four rental units and for certain uniform limits (retirement communities limited by age or single-sex communities). A landlord is forbidden to refuse to rent to you because you are pregnant or have children less than 14 years of age. Advertisements may not unlawfully discriminate either.

Public Accommodations
     These include restaurants, stores, theaters, transportation and other places and services that are open to the public. There are also requirements aimed at improving access to these places by the physically handicapped.

Employment
     Much of the discrimination that women experience takes place in the workplace. Federal and state laws prevent an employer, with few exceptions, from considering that you are a woman in hiring, firing, or promoting you or in deciding how much you get paid.
     Your employer may not follow employment policies or practices that serve no legitimate purpose and that harm women unfairly. This does not mean that the employer’s rules have to be fair in other respects or that it has to treat "all employees the same." Employment policies can be harsh, unnecessary, or even arbitrary if they have no unusual impact on women and other protected groups. An employer can also treat workers differently because of qualifications, job performance, and other legitimate business reasons — at least when this does not have an unfair and unreasonable group impact on those the law seeks to protect.
     Particular employee protections include the following:

  • Pregnancy discrimination: Since only women become pregnant, you cannot be forced to leave your job because you are pregnant if you can still do the work. You are also entitled, if you can still do the work, to the same sick pay or disability that any other employee would be paid for any other medical absence. (If your employer offers no sick leave or disability benefits, you may apply for state temporary disability payments.)
  • Family leave: Family leave is discussed later in this chapter.
  • Disability: A disability (physical or mental) that does not affect your job performance may not be used against you. Your employer must try to accommodate the disability reasonably before deciding that you cannot perform the job. The federal Law Against Discrimination (which applies to companies with 15 or more employees) and state law differ at some points in the kinds of handicap issues they address, thereby providing complementary protections.
  • AIDS: AIDS and some other contagious diseases are considered disabilities. They are also discussed in the chapter on Health Issues. Since AIDS is not transmitted by casual contact, it is rare that an employer could successfully prove that the job would jeopardize your health and safety or that of co-workers as if it were a more contagious disease.
  • Equal Pay: If your job requires comparable skill, effort, responsibility, and similar working conditions as a higher paying job, you must receive the same pay even though the job titles are different.

     In any type of discrimination, the employer is forbidden to retaliate against you for making a discrimination complaint to him/her or to state or federal authorities. Even when the original complaint turns out to be mistaken, an employer’s retaliation could be an independent basis for compensation and other relief for you. The employer may not fire, suspend, demote, or otherwise act against you for filing the complaint. Attempts by an employer to give other reasons, like poor job performance, are closely scrutinized by the authorities and the courts.

What to Do
     Consider whether to complain "within the system," to the authorities, or both. When you are discriminated against, some employers may come to your assistance; discrimination hurts the company as well as you. Gather as much proof as you can to support your claim. Keep notes and other records of all relevant conversations. If you decide to complain within the company, consult your Employee Handbook on how to proceed.

  • Consider hiring a lawyer. You do not need a lawyer to file a complaint with the EEOC or the state Division on Civil Rights. However, because of backlogs and proof difficulties, consider consulting an employment lawyer who does plaintiff’s work. Many lawyers handle meritorious cases of this kind for a contingent fee, meaning you may not need to pay the lawyer anything (except for out-of-pocket expenses) unless you win. On the other hand, be reminded that there is no guarantee that you will regain any money you have invested or any job or benefits you have lost and that such cases sometimes take years to resolve.
  • If you belong to a labor union, contact your shop steward or business agent.
  • Mitigate damages. If you are fired or otherwise out of work because of discrimination, seek other comparable employment and keep a careful record showing that you did so; you often have a duty to try to lessen the financial injury in this way. Since such cases may take years to move through the court system, you should not delay other employment pending the resolution of your case. You do not need to accept other employment in order to recover damages unless it provides comparable work and compensation.
  • Document your work. To rebut the claim that you were fired, demoted, or denied a promotion because of poor work performance, keep copies of memos and evaluations that attest to the quality of your work. If you are given an evaluation that you disagree with, ask to have your response included in your record.
  • Act in a timely manner.

Resources
     To deal with discrimination issues, contact your company’s human resources office or other person designated to deal with discrimination issues, or an employment lawyer, or:

  • New Jersey Division on Civil Rights in Trenton (609)292-4605 or Newark (201)648-2700 This agency receives and investigates your complaint and can prosecute the wrongdoers civilly to correct the wrong or compensate you for your loss. The Division will investigate, try to resolve or prosecute your complaint without charge, though it is presently trying to work its way out from under a huge backlog of cases.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (201)645-6383. In employment matters, this is the federal counterpart to New Jersey’s Division on Civil Rights.

 

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The Law
     Sexual harassment is prohibited under both federal Title VII and the state Law Against Discrimination. Sexual harassment is "any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature" such as when sex is made a condition of employment; when the response to sexual proposals becomes a basis for raises, promotions, or working conditions; and whenever the conduct unreasonably interferes with your ability to do your job or creates an "intimidating, hostile, or offensive" work atmosphere for you, as judged by the standards of a reasonable woman.
     Your employer has a legal duty to prevent such harassment. In New Jersey, your employer is responsible for harassment caused by supervisors regardless of whether company officials know about the incident or have a stated policy against it.
     Your employer can also be held responsible for harassment by non-supervisors, co-workers, or non-employees at your place of work if you have reported the incident and your company failed to take action to protect you.
     Consent to acts of flirting, joking, or requests for a date between co-workers infers that the act is not "unwelcome" and not sexual harassment.

What to Do
     The advice given about other gender discrimination applies to sexual harassment as well. You should also do the following:

  • Say NO to the offender quickly and directly. Make it clear that the behavior or remark is not acceptable. In some cases, this is all that is needed to stop the harassment.
  • Talk to co-workers about the incident. Sexual harassers are often "repeat offenders." Employers are more likely to respond if complaints come from more than one person.
  • Tell friends and family about the incident immediately. If needed, they can testify to your reaction and lend credibility to your case.
  • Note who saw the incident and your reaction.
  • Complain to your employer through a supervisor, personnel officer, management, or union official. Keep copies of all communications, write memos on conversations, and keep these with your other personal records.

Resources
See Resources for gender discrimination.

  • Sexual Harrassment Hotline (877)666-6625

 

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     Your employment rights are determined by many state and federal laws. The following are some of the most important:

Wage and Hour Laws
     Most work must provide you at least minimum wage, currently $5.15 per hour. Many employees are also legally entitled to overtime pay at one and a half times their regular hourly rate if they work more than forty hours per week. This does not apply to executive, professional, and administrative employees nor to certain other workers, such as baby-sitters.
     You must be paid at least twice a month on regular paydays, except that executives and supervisors may be paid monthly. If you leave your employment, your employer must pay the wages you are owed by the next payday. If you are on strike, the employer can delay the payment for up to ten more days.

Resources

  • If you are wrongfully denied the minimum wage, overtime, or other pay to which you are entitled, contact Office of Wage and Hour Compliance, New Jersey Department of Labor (609)292-2337

Workers Compensation
     An employer is required to give you notice about what company (possibly the employer itself) insures you against losses from being unable to work due to a work-related illness or injury. This only applies to injury that arose out of or happened in your employment. This excludes injuries at work resulting from deliberate self-harm, alcohol and drug induced injuries, some losses caused by your failure to use a safety device that was provided, and injuries arising from recreational activities of your own while at work.
     Workers compensation insurance pays your medical expenses and gives you the following benefits:

  • Temporary Disability Benefits: If you must be out of work more than seven days, due to a work-related illness or injury, you can get 70 percent of your pay, subject to certain caps, for up to 400 weeks.
  • Total Permanent Disability: If you are completely and permanently disabled, you can get this amount for the rest of your life. The initial payments are for 450 weeks. After that, if you cannot be rehabilitated, the payments become permanent. Any money you earn from work is deducted.
  • Partial Permanent Disability: Partial permanent disability applies if only a particular part of your body is permanently disabled. Schedules determine how much you receive based on the part of the body that is involved and the percentage of disability that is found.
  • Dependent Benefits: If you die from the work-related injury, your dependents get ongoing benefits based on a percentage of your wages. These are given to your husband until he remarries and to your children up to age 18. Benefits to a spouse are reduced after 450 weeks by the amount the spouse earns. Payment of $3,500 is also paid for last medical bills and funeral expenses, even if you have no dependents.

What To Do
    Notify your employer about the illness or injury when it happens. Ordinarily, you must do so in writing within 14 days, but the notice can be given within up to 90 days for a good reason. For an occupational disease, the notice must come within 90 days of the time you knew or should have known it was work-related or within five months of the time you stop contact with the cause of the disease.

  • Consider hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer. The Workers’ Compensation judge can award the lawyer up to 20 percent of the award, though part of that cost may be charged to the employer.
  • Talk to your employer (through your lawyer, if you have one) and see if you can agree on an amount of compensation.
  • File any agreement with the Division of Workers Compensation, which must approve to make the agreement binding.
  • If the employer will not enter an agreement or stops making agreed payments, get a "formal claim petition" from Workers’ Compensation.
  • File the petition within two years of either the accident or of your employers’ failure to continue agreed payments.
  • It is unlawful for your employer to fire you for filing the claim.

Temporary Disability Benefits
     State and private plans may cover a disability that is not covered by workers’ compensation. You must still be employed or else unemployed for less than two weeks when you become disabled. Your employer can set up a private plan instead of using the state’s plan if it gives you the same rights. You must be disabled for more than a week, must have earned at least certain wages in the past year, be under a doctor’s care and not being paid at work. You can get up to 2/3 of your pay for 26 weeks. The money is not taxable.

What to Do
     Find out if the state or a private plan covers you.

  • Under a private plan, get information from your employer.
  • Under the state plan, get the forms from your employer or from the unemployment benefit claims office listed in your phone book.
  • Fill out the forms with the help of your employer and doctor (if your employer does not do so, send the form anyway).
  • File under the state plan within 30 days. Extensions are given for good cause.
  • You may need to see a doctor designated by the state as often as once a week before receiving a check, if the claims office requests.
  • A private plan’s claim denial can be appealed to the Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance within one year of the denial. Further appeals may be made to the courts, if necessary.
  • If a claim is denied by the state plan, you are also entitled to a hearing before the Unemployment Compensation Division and the courts.

Family Leave
     Under state law, an eligible employee who works for an employer with 50 or more employees may take unpaid leave with job security up to 12 weeks every two years if the employee has a new child (including an adopted child) or a seriously ill family member. Health benefits must continue during the leave. An employee is eligible if she has worked for the employer at least twelve months and at least 1,000 regular hours within that time. Except for an emergency, the employee must give at least 30 days notice. The 12 weeks may be either continuous or non-continuous.
     A senior employee can be denied this leave if it would cause great harm to the employer’s business and the employer promptly notifies the employee of this denial when that decision is made. The right to be restored to an equivalent position does not apply if the employer has had a general layoff or staff reduction that would have affected the employee. Family leave is in addition to any other time off from the employer for being unable to work.
     Under a comparable federal law, much the same rights are available except that the employee must work at least 1,250 hours in the prior 12 months but may then take up to the 12 weeks of leave in any 12 month period.

Whistle-Blower Law
     The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Act (CEPA) protects an employee from employer retaliation when the employee has revealed illegal employer conduct to an appropriate government authority. The employer may not retaliate if you had a reasonable belief that the policy is prohibited by a statute or is criminal, fraudulent, or contrary to some clear public policy concerning health, safety, or the environment. It also applies when the complaint is made about another company that does business with your employer. Unless there is an emergency, the statute does not apply if you did not give the employer written notice of the violation and did not give the employer a chance to correct the problem before reporting it to the government.


 

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The League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund gratefully acknowledges underwriting of this online Women's Guide by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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