Welcome to latest episode of our Legal Tech Brief podcast where we unravel the intricacies of labor and employment law with your knowledgeable guide, Armando, and your host, Ankita Singh.
Armando and Ankita explore critical topics such as employee rights, rights for pregnant workers and legalisation of cannabis and much more in New Jersey. They break down complex legal concepts into digestible pieces, providing clarity on how these laws impact your daily professional life.
Whether you’re a seasoned HR professional, a business owner, or an employee navigating the complexities of the workplace, this podcast equips you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions. Armando’s expertise, combined with Ankita’s engaging interviewing style, creates a dynamic and informative listening experience.
Guest: Armando Riccio
Labor and Employment Law. For over a quarter century, Mr. Riccio has concentrated his practice in representing management in the public and private sectors with various employment matters. As solicitor and labor relations/employment law counsel to a variety of public and private sector entities of various sizes, Mr. Riccio has developed the depth of experience and ability to provide practical and legal solutions for a broad range of labor and employment matters, including the areas of training, policy development and administration, hiring, promotion and layoff processes/procedures, medical leaves and accommodation issues, union negotiations, investigations, disciplinary matters and grievance proceedings. He has a wide range of experience litigating cases before federal and state courts including claims of wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, Title 59, Section 1983 and related claims, as well as various civil litigation. He also has extensive experience representing clients in proceedings pending before dispute resolution forums such as grievance and interest arbitrations, mediations, and fact finding conferences. Mr. Riccio regularly represents management before various federal and state agencies including the Civil Service Commission, PERC, EEOC, NLRB and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights for matters such as agency investigations, fact finding and dispute resolution, discrimination, harassment, retaliation and unfair practice charges as well as representation, unit clarification and scope petitions, to mention a few. Additionally, Mr. Riccio conducts investigations of discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims, provides training sessions on numerous workplace/employment issues, and advises clients regarding employment practices, policies, and procedures.
Ankita is a dynamic professional with a passion for legal tech, social media management, and podcasting. With a keen eye for the intersection of law and technology, Ankita has carved her niche in the ever-evolving world of legal tech. Her expertise in harnessing cutting-edge technology to streamline legal processes is second to none.
As a social media manager, Ankita brings her creative flair to the digital realm, crafting engaging content and strategies that resonate with audiences across platforms. Her knack for storytelling and digital marketing has propelled brands to new heights.
Ankita’s true calling, however, lies in the world of podcasting. With a real knack for captivating storytelling, she hosts and produces insightful podcasts that delve into the intricacies of law, technology, and societal impacts. Her podcasts have garnered a dedicated following, making her a respected voice in the legal tech community.
Ankita’s journey continues to inspire, as she combines her passions to bridge the gap between law, technology, and the digital landscape.
Welcome to another exciting episode of Legal Tech Briefs. I’m your host, Ankita, and today we have this episode of our podcast with our esteemed guest, Armando.
Armando, welcome to CaseFox. Please introduce yourself and describe your practice.
Thank you very much and thanks for having me on. My name is Armando Richio. I practice over in the state of New Jersey representing employers both in the public and private sector. We’re a mid-sized practice group dedicated to the represented employers in the area of labor and employment matters. Personally, I have over a quarter of a century of experience practicing law in this specific area. And prior to going to law school, I earned my Master’s degree in personnel, industrial relations, and pride ourselves on providing pragmatic advice at the core of everything we do here when we’re advising clients.
Okay. Armando, thank you for introducing yourself. I’m so glad to have you on our CaseFox podcast. Let’s jump right in. Armando, could you just please tell me the trends of labor and employment law currently, which are in the discussion in recent times?
Sure. As very recently, the hottest topics we have a National Labor Relations Board at the federal level has become very aggressive under the Biden administration. It typically has a employee slant to it, but much more so under the Biden administration. There have been several decisions attacking severance agreements, policies and contracts alike. Also both at the federal and the state-level, state of New Jersey, pregnant workers enjoy greater rights than ever before. And both again at the federal and the New Jersey state level, the Department of Labor has certainly come out with a number of edics or renderings that basically make it clear that you can’t have an independent contractor in the state of New Jersey. It’s an extremely narrow class of individuals that can be classified as independent contractors.
Armando, how have the recent rulings by the NLB impacted the employers and the day-to-day operations? I would like to know the details about that.
Sure. It’s also in a vast array of areas, and frankly, we’d have to spend several hours to go over how significant the changes have been under the Biden administration. But as of late, there have been several key decisions attacking numerous employer practices and policies, for example, confidentiality provisions that you usually see in severance agreements. They have to be very narrow now. If you have a broad-based, non-disclosure provision, it violates federal law according to the present decisions coming out of the NLRB and the general counsel memos that are being issued by the NLRB general counsel. The reasoning behind them means that this and other decisions they’ve issued apply to much more than just say, severance agreements. They’ll apply to any type of contract that the employee may have signed, handbook or policy that goes beyond the limits allowed by those decisions. It’ll likely be viewed as a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which the NLRB is charged with enforcement and interpretation. You need to make sure that in the private sector, because that’s where the NLRB and the NLRA apply, in the private sector, you have to be cautious of confidentiality provisions. Of course, for our public sector employers, this really doesn’t have any meaning because there are no confidentiality provisions in a contractor agreement with a public sector entity here in the state of New Jersey, where we’re talking about the exercise of any type of governmental body action or the implementation of, say, a settlement agreement or a severance agreement.
Okay. You mentioned pregnancy in the workplace. Can you tell us more about the protections and the changes in protections for pregnant workers?
Sure. Here, as well as several other areas in the law, employers have to be super cautious because the ground is literally shifting under our feet as we go along. It’s not enough to comply with just the federal or the state law. You have to comply with both, and that can get pretty confusing. What’s already water under the bridge, long-sense under the bridge, family leaves, for example, you have a statute at the federal level, the FMLA, Family Medical Leave Act, that will apply to pregnancy situations and bonding. You’ll also have the New Jersey Family Leave Act that applies to bonding time. You’ll have both statutes and sometimes those leave protections can run at the same time. Now, what they’ve done is they’ve added additional rights that protect pregnant workers both at the state and federal level. It used to be in the state of New Jersey, the feds would pass something and lawyers representing management here in New Jersey would think, Well, that’s nice, but it doesn’t really move the needle in the state of New Jersey because we’ve already had a law in place that is well in excess of what the feds are protecting here.
That’s no longer the case now with this administration and with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. They’ve added rights and requirements to accommodate a pregnant employee at the workplace, such as allowing for the expressing of breast milk under the pump-back of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. There’s additional requirements as far as accommodations. You’ve got state laws also that you have to keep in mind that provide additional rights, such as in many states, state of New Jersey is one of them, that’s the earned sick leave laws and those statutes provide paid time off, not just unpaid job-protected leave, you put paid time off to employees and you can’t require the use of it as an accommodation for a pregnant employee, that could get you into trouble not with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, but with the Orange Sick Leave Law in the state of New Jersey. It used to be that an employer could require an employee to use any paid time off that they had prior to the New Jersey family leave insurance kicking in and the person collecting on the family leave insurance that they had contributed to. That’s not the case anymore. Now, the law had been changed back in 2019 that says that New Jersey family leave insurance, the employer can’t require the use of PTO before the employee is eligible, PTO meaning paid time off.
Armando (08:26)As far as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that I was alluding to earlier, the state statute says reasonable accommodations are essentially based on the advice of a physician, and they can include a multitude of things such as frequent breaks, periodic rest, job restructuring, modified work schedules, temporary transfers, and unpaid time off. The federal version of the law is being interpreted to mean significantly more than that. What I mean by that is simply this: the federal statute, if you take a look at the real substance of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, get past who it applies to and when it applies, et cetera, and get really to the meat and potatoes of it, it’s only roughly about two pages long. It’s very limited wording, but the EEOC, which was assigned the responsibility to administer and to have oversight of the statute and interpret it, has come out with proposed regulations that are roughly 275 pages. The comment period ended on October 10th. We’re waiting to see what it is that they finally adopt. But amongst other things, those regulations added telework, meaning working from home or remote work as an accommodation for a pregnant employee, reserved parking, like duty assignments, and suspending essential job functions, which is a real game-changer because in the area of reasonable accommodations, typically you have to.