When you start a new job, it is common for an employer to provide you with an employee handbook that outlines the company’s employment policies and procedures. If those policies are poorly written or do not follow state guidelines, disputes can arise. If you believe that your employer has failed to live up to its obligations, it takes a skilled employment lawyer to protect your rights.
At Castronovo & McKinney, LLC, our practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of workers throughout New Jersey. While employee handbooks can be a useful tool for both employers and employees, handbooks are often a source of contention. Our employment law attorneys have extensive experience handling employment-related disputes and a proven history of achieving positive results.
When you consult with us, your case will be handled by a capable employment lawyer who knows the ins and outs of employment policies. Contact our Morristown or Manhattan office today for a consultation.
What You Need to Know About Employment Policies
Employment policies must adhere to applicable law and clarify the expectations of employees. Today, it is customary for businesses to create employee handbooks that spell out company policies, expectations of employees, and the consequences for violating company policies.
Generally, an employee handbook starts with an introduction to the business as well as an explanation of the company’s mission. From there, a handbook covers a wide range of topics, including:
All employers in New Jersey must adhere to federal and state equal employment opportunity laws, including:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD)
These laws prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, creed, age, sex, disability, sexual identity, and other legally protected characteristics. Notably, sexual harassment is considered to be an unlawful form of sex-based discrimination under Title VII and the NJLAD.
As such, the employee handbook should make clear that sexual harassment in the workplace is a violation of company policy and spell out the procedure for reporting incidents of workplace harassment, as well as disciplinary measures that may be taken against the offender.
Employment Policies: Compensation
A written employment policy should establish how employees are compensated (e.g. hourly, salary, commission), as well as the payment cycle (e.g. weekly, biweekly, or monthly for commissioned employees). Also, the compensation policy should clarify how employees are classified (e.g. exempt, non-exempt), which employees are entitled to overtime pay, how hours are recorded, and how income taxes are computed and deducted. In any event, compensation policies must follow federal and state wage laws.
An employment policy should cover what type of employment benefits are offered, such as:
- Employer-sponsored health insurance
- Retirement plans – 401(k)
- Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP)
- Stock options
The policy should also clarify how employees become eligible for such benefits.
An employee handbook should clarify the daily work schedule, including:
- The company’s hours of operation
- Attendance (e.g. whether employees are required to clock in)
- Hours required each day
- Time allotted for lunch breaks
- Whether rest breaks are offered
The handbook should also inform employees when they are eligible for paid time off – vacation days, sick days – and how this time accrues.
Employment Policies: Employee Conduct/Disciplinary Matters
An employment policy must establish guidelines for how employees are expected to conduct themselves at work. In particular, the consequences for tardiness, absenteeism, misuse of email, internet, and company equipment must be stated.
Employees should also be informed that alcohol and drug use during work hours, on or off company premises, is not permitted. Finally, an employee handbook should specify the disciplinary actions for workplace violations – up to and including termination.
An employment policy should discuss how employee performance is evaluated, what constitutes satisfactory performance, and a timeline of when employees will be reviewed (e.g. after 6 months, annually).
Work-related safety concerns and the steps that should be taken if an employee, or visitor, is injured on-site should also be part of an employment policy. In most cases, safety policies must adhere to rules established by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state authorities.
What Are My Rights As an Employee
You should know that an employee handbook is not an agreement between the employer and employees and does not establish a contractual relationship. In addition, New Jersey is an “at-will” state for purposes of employment. This means that you can be fired at any time, with or without cause; however, you cannot be fired for an illegal reason.
For example, if you were fired after complaining about sexual harassment and followed the reporting procedure outlined in the employee handbook, you may have a valid wrongful termination claim based on illegal retaliation. Similarly, an employer can be held liable for violating an employment policy (and state law) by failing to take corrective action when someone complains about workplace harassment.
Some of the most common disputes over employment policies involve wage and hour claims. For example, a worker may be misclassified as an independent contractor when he or she is actually an employee who is entitled to the benefits of employment. Another common wage and hour violation occurs when employers misclassify non-exempt employees as exempt to avoid paying overtime.
In short, when a company fails to establish employment policies, violates an employment policy, or those policies violate federal, state, and local laws, employees have a right to take legal action. The best way to protect your rights is to have an experienced employment lawyer at your side.
Contact Our Knowledgeable New Jersey Employment Law Attorneys
If you believe that your employer’s policies violate applicable laws or that your employment rights have been violated, turn to Castronovo & McKinney. We will take the time to understand your circumstances and explore all your options. Contact us today to learn how we can help.