Tag Archives: Appellate Division

Furniture retailer not truckers exempt from overtime law, NJ court says

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New Jersey’s overtime law says that employers must pay employees 1 1/2 times their regular hourly rate for every hour worked that is more than 40 hours in a week.  But there is a law that exempts trucking industry employers from the requirement to pay that overtime rate.  Furniture retailer Raymour & Flanigan said that it was eligible for the trucking exemption after an employee complained that Raymour was not paying overtime.  In court, the employer has the burden of proving that it is entitled to claim an exemption to New Jersey’s overtime law.

Raymour & Flanigan argued to the Appellate Division that it should not have to pay the employees in its customer service and distribution centers the statutory overtime rate because each of those centers received furniture for the purpose of delivery to customers, making each of the centers a trucking “establishment” under the law exempting trucking businesses from overtime requirements.

The Appellate Division court disagreed with Raymour, stating that because its primary business is furniture retail and not trucking, the exemption for trucking establishments does not apply.  As a result, Raymour is required to pay all of its employees, including those in its customer service and distribution centers, the statutory overtime rate.

In the Matter of Raymour and Flanigan Furniture, et al., Docket No. A-4622-07T1, (Sup Ct NJ, App Div 2009).

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Dividing future workers comp medical expenses between different insurers OK, Court says

On December 19, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, decided a workers’ compensation case involving different insurance companies that were appealing a decision from the Division of Workers’ Compensation apportioning responsibility for future medical expenses between them.

The facts, which were not disputed, show that the employee worked for AGFA, becoming totally and permanently disabled as a result of physical activities performed at work over a 23-year period. During that time, AGFA had workers’ compensation insurance with three different companies.

Initially, the employee’s osteoarthritis symptoms arose in 1994 while the employer carried insurance with Reliance.

Then in 2000, the employee had more symptoms while her employer carried insurance with ACE. Finally, in 2001, the employee’s condition arose again while AGFA had workers’ compensation insurance with Travelers.

A physician testified at trial that it would be impossible to determine exactly when the employee’s condition became permanent.

The Division of Workers’ Compensation judge apportioned responsibility between the three insurers upon determining that the employee’s work during the three different periods of coverage contributed equally to her disability.

Two of the three insurance companies argued that the workers’ compensation judge was wrong in apportioning responsibility for future medical expenses among all three insurers, because the judge could not have determined whether the employee needed future medical treatment during each of the three periods of insurance. Both Reliance and ACE thought that only Travelers, the last insurer, should pay for the employee’s future medical treatment, under the “last injurious exposure” rule. The Appellate Division disagreed.

The Appellate Division pointed out that when the onset date of the injury or disease cannot be determined, and the employment contributed to the injury or disease during each of the insurers’ coverage periods, apportionment among the different insurers may be appropriate.

Additionally, the insurers argued that the apportionment of responsibility for future medical expenses among three different insurers creates logistical problems.  These problems include the difficulty in having three different insurers choose a medical provider and pay for that provider’s services.

Dismissing the insurers’ argument about logistics as “meritless,” the Appellate Division said there is no rule stating that only the last insurer should pay future medical expenses whenever there is a logistical problem with payment and with choosing a physician. The Court added that the insurers could always apply to the Division of Workers’ Compensation for orders designating a treating physician and addressing payment terms for future medical expenses.

Natale v. Celanese, Inc., et al., Docket No. A-0840-07T1, Sup. Ct. NJ, App. Div. (2008).

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Quitting due to mental stress from job not enough for unemployment benefits

Yesterday the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, decided a case involving an employee who voluntarily quit her job due to work-related stress and was then turned down for unemployment benefits.

The employee worked as a claims adjuster until May 2007, when she quit. Two months earlier, her job duties had increased because a co-worker went out on disability.

She argued that she left work because of mental health issues that began when her mother died and that worsened with her work-related stress. Both the Appeal Tribunal and the Board of Review found that she left without good cause attributable to her work and that as a result, she could not qualify for unemployment benefits. the test for whether a decision to quit work constitutes good cause is one of ordinary good sense and prudence.

Under the law, the employee needs to do whatever is necessary and reasonable to stay employed.

To show that a pre-existing medical condition was aggravated by a workplace situation, the claimant must show competent medical evidence as to that assertion. The evidence must be more than an equivocal statement.

In this case, the claimant presented evidence of an ER visit two years before she left work in which she told the nurse that she had stress at work and she had thoughts of killing her boss.  In addition, the ER records reflected her complaints about financial and housing problems.

The court pointed out that the employee stayed in her job for two years after her ER visit, which damaged her contention that it was the work-related stress that made her quit work.

The Appellate Division agreed with the Appeal Tribunal and the Board of Review and concluded that the employee was not eligible for unemployment benefits since she left work without good cause attributable to her work.

Goodman v. Board of Review, et al., Docket No. A-1260-07T2 (Sup. Ct. Nj, App. Div 2008)

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Change in employee’s work hours leads to unemployment benefits

Last Wednesday, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, affirmed an award of unemployment benefits to an employee whose employer had changed her work hours to interfere with her child care arrangements.

The employee worked from 8:30am  to 4:30pm, but had difficulty getting to work on time every day because of the traffic.  Her supervisor asked her to think about changing her hours to 9am to 5pm, but the employee resisted because she would not have enough time to pick up her child by 5:30pm, when the after-school program closed.  As a compromise, the employee suggested she work from 8:45 to 4:45, a notion that the employer rejected out of hand.  The employee left her employment as a result.

In its opinion, the Court provides an interesting discussion of “good cause” under the law’s provision that a person who leaves work without good cause attributable to the work is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  Good cause, the Court says, generally means enough cause to justify the employee’s voluntary departure from employment.  Good cause is directly related to the employment and gives the employee no choice but to leave employment.

The Court examined a prior case involving an employee’s transportation problem.  When a transportation issue arises solely from the employee’s personal circumstances, it is not enough to provide good cause, the Court recalled.  If the transportation issue stems from a change in working conditions unilaterally instituted by the employer, an “evaluation and balancing” of factors must be done to determine eligibility for benefits.

While this case involved a unilateral change in work hours instituted by the employer, it caused a child care problem instead of a transportation problem.  The employee had the same child-care arrangements for a long time and yet the employer had given her no time to find alternate arrangements, rejecting a compromise proposal for the employee.

These circumstances resulted in the Court’s affirming the prior award of unemployment benefits to the employee.

Commentary

The procedural history of this case is worth noting.  The employer protested the employee’s application for unemployment and the Appeal Tribunal sided with the employer, denying benefits.  But the Board of Review found in favor of the employee, rejecting the Appeal Tribunal’s finding that the unilateral change in working hours was insubstantial.

This procedural history shows that what seems like a fairly simple issue at first blush – the conflict between working hours and child care – is actually fairly complicated and can be difficult to decide, requiring a balancing of several factors.

Silent Type, Inc. v. Board of Review, et al., Docket No. A-0403-07T3 (Superior Ct of NJ, App Div 2008).

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