Employers in the Garden State need to be aware that on July 24, 2009 the New Jersey minimum wage will increase by 10 cents, from $7.15 to $7.25 per hour.
Many employers question the timing of this change in the midst of the worst recession in 60 years. However, under state statute, the New Jersey minimum wage cannot be lower than the federal minimum wage.
The New Jersey minimum wage law covers smaller employers in the state. Under state law, the New Jersey minimum wage matches the federal minimum wage, which increases from $6.55 to $7.25 on July 24, 2009, a raise of 70 cents per hour.
On that same date, the New Jersey state minimum wage will increase to $7.25 per hour, too. Employers across the state must update their state and federal minimum wage posters before that date.
At present, there is no federal minimum wage increase scheduled for 2010. The Division of Wage and Hour Compliance of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development enforces the state minimum wage laws.
New Jersey employers not covered by the state minimum wage (more…)
According to OSHA, every New Jersey employer should have a plan in place to prevent workplace violence. Even more important, there should be a plan to address violence if it does occur.
On February 13, in New York, a therapist was hacked to death by a man with a meat cleaver. Kathryn Faughey, described as a dedicated therapist, was attacked in her office. A male colleague, Dr. Kent Shinback, was injured trying to save her.
While this tragic even occurred in New York, no state is immune from violence in the workplace.
The New York assailant was apparently related to a former patient of Dr. Shinback’s. The man, who has been apprehended by police, says that he planned to attack Shinback but decided to rob Faughey’s purse, sitting in her empty office, while he was waiting. When Faughey returned unexpectedly, the man attacked her.
Three bloody knives were left in the room.
Police say that Faughey put up a “fierce struggle” leaving blood on the floor and walls.
The following day, in a frightening incident this month, an armed man terrorized employees at a Kmart store in Whatcom County, Washington. The man stole a gun from the retailer, then ran through the store screaming and knocking over employees on February 14. The man is described as a white male in his mid-twenties.
The man held a knife to the store manager’s throat before smashing a display case to steal a gun and ammo.
Outside the store, the man confronted a police officer, but stopped short of aiming the gun at anyone. The man threatened to kill himself if apprehended.
While there is no conclusive evidence yet, it appears that the man may have been under the influence of drugs, alcohol or both.
People who witnessed the incident are asked to contact the Bellingham Police Department. Police are concerned that an accomplice in the incident may still be at large.
When employers think of the potential for violence in the workplace, they usually focus on late-night robberies of convenience stores, not mid-morning robberies of suburban discount stores.
In the early 1990s, over 200 people were murdered in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number dropped to 94 in 2006. Violence in the workplace in Ohio and across the nation is a concern for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), particularly homicides. Though the number of people killed has dropped over the years, it is still a major factor.
OSHA urges all employers to establish a policy of zero tolerance toward violence on the job. Safety programs and violence prevention programs should be set up and provided in writing to all employees. Workers should also understand how to prevent violence, and how to react in violent scenarios.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides videos and downloads on preventing workplace violence.
The statistics regarding workplace violence are staggering. Over 2 million Americans are victimized every year. All occupations and social levels are included. Blue collar workers and professionals are each as likely to be involved.
To help prevent workplace violence, OSHA recommends that all companies install video surveillance, alarm systems and extra lighting. All workers should be issued an I. D. badge to limit access, along with cell phones and hand-held alarms. For those workers handling a lot of cash, especially at night, companies should provide a drop safe.
For their safety, all employees who work away from an office should provide their employer with their work plan, and check in during the day. Plus, companies should have a policy where a worker clearly facing a dangerous situation can refuse that situation.
Smokers at Atlantic City casinos may find that they are going the way of the dinosaur. In recent days, another Atlantic City casino has announced a smoking ban to protect employees from second-hand smoke. That puts the total at 7 out of 11 Atlantic City casinos that will no longer allow smoking on the premises.
This move by the majority of casinos is in response to an Atlantic City ordinance passed by city officials last year. The law requires casinos that allow smoking to confine it to a separate smoking lounge. The problem arises because the statute requires that there be no gambling in the smoking lounge. Rather than sacrifice valuable floor space to a non-revenue producing activity, or permit gamblers to be lured from the poker tables and slot machines by nicotine, casinos are opting to eliminate smoking altogether.
The few casino hold-outs are betting that smokers will favor a gambling establishment where they can still light up, even if it’s away from the tables.
Atlantic City is by no means in the minority among cities and states protecting workers and customers from the effects of second-hand smoke. A number of states have recently enacted workplace smoking bans. Illinois joined the fray in July, with the passage of a smoking ban that goes into effect on January 1, 2008. A similar ban that prohibits smoking in most workplaces in Maryland will go into effect on February 1, 2008.
In the past, many states prohibited smoking in public areas, but permitted it in restaurants, bars and casinos. These laws are slowly being changed, with a number of states adding restaurants, bars and even casinos to the “non-smoking” list. Minnesota already has significant bans on smoking in public areas.
Effective October 1, 2007, a new law that bans smoking in restaurants and bars in Minnesota will go into effect. Montana has passed a similar law, which is slated to go into effect on October 1, 2009.
New Hampshire’s law banning smoking in restaurants and bars goes into effect on September 17, 2007. Oregon’s 100% smoke-free workplace law will become effective on January 1, 2009. That’s the same day that a Utah law banning smoking in bars will go into effect.
Opinions are divided on smoking bans in restaurants and bars. Many workers in the hospitality industry embrace such laws, pointing out that without such measures, employees are exposed to “passive smoking” every work day. Restaurant and bar owners are usually less enthusiastic. They voice fears that they will lose business as people stay home to smoke.
These laws, like all modern smoking bans, are a reaction to an increasing body of research that shows the unhealthy effects of second-hand smoke. A recent study, for example, shows that non-smokers who are married to someone who smokes have a 25% to 30% higher risk of lung cancer, emphysema and other smoking-related disorders, compared to those who are married to non-smokers.
Smoking bans are not a phenomena limited to the U.S. In 2004, Ireland and Norway passed bans on smoking in all public places. The U.K. passed similar ban in 2007.
The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation is an anti-smoking group that keeps meticulous records of smoking legislation. According to the group, there are 23 states with some form of state-wide workplace smoking ban in place. These include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
In addition, there are counties and municipalities in almost every state that ban smoking in some form, from Alaska to Wyoming. One state that is notably absent from the list is North Carolina an area where tobacco is a major crop and the tobacco lobby has been especially strong in the past. At least for the present, smokers are welcome almost anywhere in the state.
Sometimes, being a hero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Vincent Rennich is a non-smoker who claims that exposure to second-hand smoke at the casino where he worked caused him to develop lung cancer. He became an outspoken critic of smoking in the workplace, earning the 2007 Smoke Free Hero of the Year award by Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
Now, the New Jersey employee claims that he has been illegally fired for testifying about his case.
Casinos are the last bastion in the battle for smoke-free workplaces in many states. A number of states, including Illinois, have recently enacted smoking bans that include casinos. Others, like Michigan, are considering such a ban.
On April 15, 2006, New Jersey enacted a law that bans smoking in most workplaces. The law bans smoking in most offices and workplaces. It does, however, permit smoking in tobacco stores, cigar bars and casinos.
Rennich, a native of Somers Point, New Jersey, was just one worker who testified about the dangers of second-hand smoke in the workplace, during a recent hearing before the New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. Rennich’s testimony specifically concerned casinos.
Rennich urged the committee to consider a ban on smoking in casinos. After working at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City for 26 years, Rennich developed lung cancer. According to medical experts, lung cancer is rare in non-smokers. Rennich’s doctors concede that his daily, prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke probably was a factor in him developing the deadly disease.
Rennich, who has never smoked a cigarette in his life, discovered the disease only by accident – literally. Rennich had x-rays and medical tests after being involved in an automobile accident, which uncovered the lung cancer. Since his treatment for cancer began, Rennich has become a vocal advocate for smoking bans at casinos, including the New Jersey Smoke Free Air Act.
After the hearing, state Senator Robert Singer, a republican from Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean, thanked Rennich and the other casino employees for testifying. The Senator specifically noted that “you’ve put your jobs on the line”, a comment that some felt could be a veiled threat.
In fact, New Jersey, like most other states, has stringent whistleblower laws that prevent firing or any retaliation against workers who act in good faith to report serious problems in the workplace.
The testimony was just the latest in Rennich’s quest for justice in the case. One year ago, he sued the Tropicana for providing an unhealthful workplace that caused his cancer.
One week after Rennich’s testimony, he was fired from the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, where he had worked for more than 26 years. The suit claims that the termination is a violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
A casino spokesperson insists that Rennich’s termination had nothing to do with his visibility as an advocate of smoking bans in casinos. The Tropicana was recently sold by the Aztar Corporation, to Columbia Sussex Corporation. In less than 3 months, Columbia Sussex has laid off about 700 employees. Columbia Sussex cites the 15% reduction in workforce as a simple cost-cutting move.
Rennich’s attorney is not buying that explanation. “I think it’s simply too convenient (to say) that his termination is part of a larger downsizing, given the very outspoken and public position that Mr. Rennich has taken regarding a smoke-free workplace,” Rennich’s attorney, Jeff Carton of White Plains, N.Y. said in a news conference.
“I don’t know anything about the other 700 people, I just know what they did to me,” Rennich added. “It’s just wrong. It’s pretty obvious they used that excuse to try and silence me.”
According to Rennich, the firing has created personal and financial problems for his family. Unable to find another job, he has paid $1,300 for health benefits. Rennich spends most of his time speaking against smoking in the workplace.
Despite lost wages, emotional pain and legal fees, Rennich has vowed to continue his struggle for non-smoker’s rights in the workplace, “Until they close the lid on me, I’m not going to give up.”
One of the major initiatives of the current administration has been utilizing faith-based and community organizations to ease social problems.
The most recent effort in this area was announced last week, when the U.S. Department of Labor awarded $3.8 million to 73 different faith-based and community organizations. All of the organizations are involved in helping unemployed people make career connections. Some of the organizations serve ex-convicts, while others aid those with educational or financial challenges.
The 73 different organizations help workers who are “hard to serve” in 28 states plus the District of Columbia. Of the 73 grantees, 59 are new organizations. The grants awarded under this program were based on competitions.
The 59 organizations with new grants will receive up to $60,000 each. In addition, a competition between a number of previous grantees resulted in 14 of them receiving additional grants of $30,000 to increase their successful programs.
Programs offer a laundry list of services, from career coaching for ex-offenders to English literacy lessons for immigrants from Ethiopia and the Slavic states.
“Faith-based and community organizations play vital roles in helping those in greatest need to find jobs and build better lives for themselves and their families,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. “The $3.8 million in grants will go to 73 faith-based and community organizations to provide supportive services as individuals seek to reintegrate into the workforce.”
The projects are aimed at helping “hard to serve” clients from a wide range of backgrounds. These include high school dropouts, ex-offenders, welfare recipients and others who have been unemployed long-term. These clients will be offered support services including career counseling, life coaching, mentoring and other services designed to prepare them to enter the work force.
“Faith-based and community organizations have proven their ability to reach into communities and connect individuals facing barriers to employment to local career resources,” said Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Emily Stover DeRocco. “These groups are one of the primary links between individuals struggling to gain employment and needed assistance.”
The grants are part of the Labor Department’s ongoing effort to partner existing federal programs with effective faith-based and community organizations to better serve the needy. These recent awards will allow recipients to expand their services to more neighborhoods than ever before.
“Working with every willing partner allows us to better serve those in need,” said Rhett Butler, director of the Department of Labor’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. “The organizations receiving funding today are skilled at making connections with those in need, at providing services with a personal touch, and at helping individuals break their cycle of recurring struggles that have kept them from better economic opportunities.”
Two grants went to Arizona, including one to benefit refugees in Tucson. A total of six grants went to programs in the state of California. One will benefit the East African community of Orange County, while another went to a Spanish-language group in Oakland. Grants also went to a Slavic community group and a Vietnamese group, both in Sacramento.
A number of community organizations under the program serve ethnic groups. These include an Ethiopian community center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a Latin American organization in Camden, New Jersey.
Several awards went to groups that work with ex-offenders. These include a rehabilitation group in St. Petersburg, Florida, Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-entry Coalition in Clearwater, Florida, and Texas Re-Entry Services of Fort Worth.
Among the faith-based organizations, Loaves & Fishes Ministries of Hartford Connecticut received $50,000. Eaglevision Ministries, Inc. in Baltimore also received an award. Also among the winners was the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Salem, Oregon.
The Hard Hatted Women, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio and the Pharr Literacy Project of Pharr, Texas also received awards.