Governor Phil Murphy Expands New Jersey Striking Workers’ Rights to Unemployment Benefits

On August 10, 2018, Governor Phil Murphy signed a law expanding striking workers’ rights to unemployment benefits under certain conditions, protecting both union and non-union employees. The new law applies for claims for unemployment benefits for a period of unemployment commencing on or after July 1, 2018.

Under prior New Jersey law, a striking worker was eligible to receive unemployment benefits only if: (1) the worker was not financing, participating, or directly interested in the labor dispute which caused the work stoppage; and (2) the worker did not belong to a group or class of workers at the job site who were financing, participating, or directly interested in the dispute immediately before the commencement of the work stoppage. This in effect precluded unionized workers participating in a strike from collecting unemployment benefits.

This new legislation shifts the focus and allows striking workers to collect unemployment benefits if the labor dispute is caused by an employer’s failure or refusal to comply with an agreement, contract, or collective bargaining agreement, or a state or federal law pertaining to hours, wages, or “other conditions of work”. If the unemployment of the striking workers is caused by such a labor dispute, then the worker is entitled to unemployment benefits, but there is a mandatory 30-day waiting period for filing an unemployment claim if unemployment is caused by a strike or other concerted activities by employees. However, if the employer hires a replacement worker or does not allow the striking worker to return to his or her prior position, then the 30-day waiting period does not apply. As a result, the striking worker is entitled to recover any benefits lost as the result of the 30-day waiting period. Additionally, the State may impose a penalty upon the employer of up to $750 per employee per week of benefits, payable to the unemployment insurance fund.

An important change to note under the new law is that it presumes a replacement worker is permanent unless the employer certifies in writing that the striking worker will be permitted to return to his or her position upon conclusion of the labor dispute.

Because the legislation does not define the terms “other conditions of work” and “other concerted activities,” it is unclear what kinds of events could trigger the payment of benefits under the new law. If you have any questions regarding the impact of the new unemployment legislation, feel free to contact the experienced attorneys at the Zazzali Firm for more information.

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