- NJ Employment Law at a Glance
- September 12, 2017
Did you know that New Jersey is an “employment-at-will” state? This means that either an employer or employee may terminate their relationship at any time – without warning, reason, or cause. But it’s also important to know there are a number of exceptions to this rule to protect employees from employer discrimination or bias – essentially from being fired for the wrong reasons.
In fact, New Jersey Statutes and Case Law are filled with vital protections for employees – from The Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) ensuring that employees are safe from different forms of employer discrimination in the workplace – to the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA") which protects employees against bias and wrongdoing on the part of their employer.
But there are also gaps where Statutes have failed to provide adequate protections, and the courts have ably filled in the blanks to provide employees with a means to bring actions based upon employer wrongdoing when they are against the “Public Policy” of the state. A great example of this is demonstrated in cases such as Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. The Pierce case widened the scope of employee causes of action.
The Pierce court indicated that an “at-will employee” has a cause of action in tort, contract or both – for wrongful discharge when the discharge is contrary to a clear mandate of public policy. The sources of the public policy may include legislation, administrative rules, regulations or decisions, and judicial decisions. In certain instances, a professional code of ethics may contain an expression of public policy. Ultimately, the Pierce court wisely observed that the public policy cause of action must be carefully delineated so as to not interfere with the employer’s right to make business decisions and to choose the best personnel for the job. The court also emphasized that unless an employee-at-will identifies a specific expression of public policy, he may be discharged with or without cause.
In fact, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) cited above was enacted in response to this Court's decision, establishing a Statutory exception to the rule that an employer may terminate an “at-will employee” with or without cause.While the courts have widened the range for determining potential cause of action of the employee, they also strive to balance the legitimate business purposes of the employer. Knowing your rights as both an employee and an employer can help ensure success for all professionals in the workplace.