How employment laws differ in New Jersey and Pennsylvania

Although the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey are separated only by a river, in some cases there is an ocean of difference between the employment laws in each state.

Smart Business spoke with Frank P. Spada Jr., an attorney at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC, about those differences.

How do family leave laws differ?

Under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), employers with 30 or more employees worldwide who have been employed for at least one year and have worked 1,000 hours in the past 12 months can generally take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave during any 24-month period to bond with a child, and care for a family member or the equivalent of a family member with a serious health condition. That includes a diagnosis of or suspected exposure to COVID-19. This also includes required care or treatment of a child during that state of emergency if their school or place of care is closed. Further, the NJFLA does not provide leave for an employee’s own serious medical condition, as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act does.

Pennsylvania does not have a specific family leave law, so employees in Pennsylvania must rely on the FMLA.

What about earned sick leave?

In New Jersey, under the Earned Sick Leave Law, an employee can accrue one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked up to a maximum of 40 hours of leave per benefit year.

Although Pennsylvania does not have a similar law, certain municipalities may. For example, Philadelphia has an ordinance requiring employers with 10 or more employees that are within the city to provide one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked in Philadelphia, for a total of no more than 40 hours of sick time in a calendar year. This time can be used for a variety of reasons, including to care for a family member. It also includes any absences necessary due to domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking for an employee or family member, to allow for mental and physical recovery, and has been extended to include COVID-19 issues.

Do discrimination laws differ?

In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) protects employees from discrimination, while in New Jersey it’s the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD).

The NJLAD is very broad and includes a number of protected classes and activities, like gender identity and expression, that are not covered by the Pennsylvania statute. For those employees working in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance provides more protections then the PHRA.

The NJLAD permits the recovery of punitive damages as well as the right to a trial by jury, while the PHRA does not. The NJLAD also permits the option for an employee to file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights or go directly to the New Jersey Superior Court system for relief. In Pennsylvania, an employee must file with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) initially and, if the case has been dismissed or has failed to be resolved within a year, the employee could seek redress in the Court of Common Pleas.

How about hiring laws?

According to the New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act, employers may only inquire into an applicant’s criminal history after the employer has selected the applicant as the employer’s first choice to fill the position. The same restrictions apply to recruiters or job placement agencies.

In Pennsylvania, the Criminal History Record Information Act permits employers to only consider felony and misdemeanor convictions that relate specifically to the job applied for. But employers can seek information about an applicant’s criminal history before an offer is made. Municipalities, such as Philadelphia, however, have ordinances that prohibit an employer from inquiring about criminal convictions during the application and interview process.

In New Jersey, employers must comply with a ‘Ban the Box’ law that prohibits asking about a criminal record on an employment application. In Pennsylvania, the law applies only to public sector employers, although a number of municipalities, including Philadelphia, have their own versions.

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