A bill making its way through the New Jersey legislature provides that an employee may request, and an employer must consider, changes to work hours, work locations, and more consistent work hours, among other terms and conditions of employment, as a matter of right. The employer, in turn, must engage in a “good faith interactive process” to consider the employee’s request and explain the basis for any denial.

The New Jersey Assembly’s Committee on Women and Children, divided along party-lines, reported the bill titled the “Schedules That Work Act.”

Furthermore, except where the employer has a bona fide business reason for denying a request, the bill requires employers to grant requests for schedule changes, work hours, and the like, where the request is motivated by:

  1. a serious health condition of the employee;
  2. the employee’s responsibilities as a caregiver;
  3. educational commitments; or
  4. obligations to a secondary employer.

An employer also must provide a written response to any such requests from an employee.

Bona fide business reason” is defined as an “identifiable burden of significant additional costs to an employer, including the cost of productivity loss, retraining or hiring employees, or transferring employees from one facility to another facility; a significant detrimental impact on the employer’s ability to meet organizational needs or customer demand; a significant detrimental effect on business performance; insufficiency of work during the periods an employee proposes to work; or the need to balance competing scheduling requests when it is not possible to grant all such requests without a significant detrimental effect on the employer’s ability to meet organizational needs.”

Additionally, the bill includes special provisions applicable to employees in the retail, food service, or cleaning industries. Employers in these industries must pay an employee four hours when the employee is instructed to report to work, but is given less than four hours of work. An employer also must pay an employee an additional hour at the employee’s regular pay rate for each day in which the employee works a split shift. An employer also must provide an employee in the retail, food service, or cleaning industry 14 days’ advance written notice of any schedule changes.

More important, the bill protects an employee who exercises her or his rights under the Act. The bill prohibits retaliation against an employee who requests schedule changes or requests the additional payments outlined in the Act. In addition to administrative remedies and penalties, an aggrieved employee may bring a private cause of action in the Superior Court of New Jersey. The available remedies include reinstatement, back-pay, front-pay, liquidated damages, costs and attorney’s fees, among others. An employer also would be required to post notices of employees’ rights under the Act.

While the bill is in its preliminary stages, the fact that such a far-reaching piece of legislation made it out of committee reflects the political climate for businesses in the State of New Jersey. The level of interference in a private workplace contemplated by the bill would hamper an employer’s ability to meet its business needs. Concerned employers should consider contacting their local representatives and industry groups.