Photo of Benjamin E. Widener

Benjamin E. Widener is a Shareholder in the Employment and Litigation practice groups at Stark & Stark, and Chairman of the firm’s Employment Law Group, responsible for managing labor and employment work handled by the firm. Ben represents his clients in all aspects of labor and employment law, concentrating his practice in employment litigation and employment counseling. Ben’s practice also includes litigating contract, securities, and business disputes.

COVID-19 concerns have swept across the country in the last weeks. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other governing bodies have called upon all Americans to do what they can to slow the transmission of the disease by practicing social distancing. For employers, that means seriously considering allowing their employees to work remotely.

Continue Reading Remote Working: What Employers Need To Know

Companies are finding themselves in an unprecedented situation, needing to make determinations that keep their employees safe while complying with state and federal laws during the current global health challenge.

Navigating responsibilities, employee rights, and requirements for compliance require complex calculations for employers with the recent spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). While the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and other federal and state guidelines can provide instructions for those that have contracted the illness, measures dictated by social distancing are less clear cut.

So what are the factors that should be taken into consideration? Travel restrictions, implementation of remote work policies, and limiting exposure in offices that are open are all part of the current decisions facing businesses.

What are the most important points to consider at this time?


Continue Reading Employers Navigate New Territory With COVID-19 Risks and Accommodations

A New Jersey state jury hit Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp with nearly $1.5 million in net damages over a former company executive’s claims that she was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing. The jury in turn rejected the pharma company’s stance that the employee had been properly terminated for violating company policies.

In a 7-1 votes, the jury awarded $1,816,040 to Min Amy Guo in her whistleblower suit, in which she alleged that she was fired from Novartis for raising concerns in 2012 that a potential cancer drug study for Afinitor by the pharmaceutical distribution company McKesson Corp was possibly a kickback to McKesson to help sell the medicine.


Continue Reading Novartis Hit with $1.5M Whistleblower Suit, Avoids Punitive Damages

Confidential settlement agreements reached between employers and employees resolving claims of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment may not be so secret anymore.

On March 18, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law Senate Bill 121, which amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-12 (“NJLAD”), by declaring unlawful and unenforceable any provision in any employment contract or settlement agreement concealing, or attempting to conceal, details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment. Furthermore, and perhaps even more concerning to employers, the amendment prohibits the contractual waiver of any substantive or procedural rights or remedies relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation or harassment.


Continue Reading New Law Bans Non-Disclosure of Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Settlements

Without doubt, the clear public policy of the State of New Jersey is – and always has been – to eradicate invidious discrimination from the workplace, and a central purpose of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”), N.J.S.A. 10:5-12, is the prohibition of discrimination in all aspects of the employment relationship. Recently, this purpose has been extended by way of a new state mandate to ensure equal pay to all employees for equal, or “substantially similar,” work.

Effective July 1, 2018, the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (the “Act”) became the most sweeping equal pay legislation in the nation. Prior to its enactment, equal pay was governed generally by Title VII and the NJLAD, as well as the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963, which is aimed at abolishing pay disparity only on the basis of gender. The New Jersey Equal Pay Act amended the NJLAD by furthering and broadening the prohibition against pay discrimination because, or on the basis, of an employee’s inclusion in any protected class. That means equal pay for everyone regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, etc.


Continue Reading Equal Pay for Equal Work – New Jersey’s New Equal Pay Act

The proliferation of paid sick leave laws has arrived in New Jersey. On May 2, 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Act, which takes effect October 29, 2018. The Act, which applies to nearly all employers and employees in the Garden State, guarantees that almost every person employed in New Jersey will accrue paid sick leave. Given its breadth of coverage, record keeping and notice requirements, and the potential penalties for breach and noncompliance, Employers must prepare for this new legislation. Here are some of the basics.

Who is Covered?

The Act applies to any person or entity having employees in the State of New Jersey, regardless of the employer’s size. The terms “employer” and “employee” are defined broadly to include all employers and employees, with limited exceptions. This includes temporary help service firms and small businesses.

How is Leave Accrued?


Continue Reading Paid Sick Leave in New Jersey: What’s the Prognosis?

Consider a few scenarios:

  • An employee has been injured on the job and unexpectedly fails a post-accident drug test, testing positive for opioids. What do you do?
  • An employee comes into your office, closes the door, and confides in you that she is battling an addiction to opioids and needs help. What policies apply and laws come into play?
  • An employee is increasingly absent from work, appears drowsy and inattentive when he is working, and his performance is slipping. You’ve issued a few verbal disciplinary warnings and have decided it is time for the employee to go, but when you go to put the “pink slip” in the employee’s locker, you find a current prescription for pain killers prescribed to the employee. Do you fire him?
  • A candidate for employment submits an application, has impressive credentials, has relevant job experience and hits a home run at her interview. You make a conditional job offer subject to the candidate passing a comprehensive background check, which turns up a drug possession conviction. You raise the issue with the candidate, who discloses that she had a drug dependency addiction in the past but is clean now and still attending support group meetings to stay clean. Do you hire her?

These are just a few examples of how employers and the workplace can be affected by the opioid crisis. Just about everyone in this day and age has been touched by the opioid epidemic or knows someone who has. Employers similarly are not immune to this sad and sobering reality. The opioid crisis touches many employment law issues, policies and procedures, including background checks, drug testing, medical leave laws, employee benefits and counseling, social media and employee speech, employee privacy and HIPAA, and disability discrimination and accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


Continue Reading Opioids, Employees, and Accommodations: an Employer’s Primer on Confronting the Crisis

What is a “hostile work environment?”

This seemingly straightforward three-word phrase has vexed employers, in-house counsel, and HR professionals alike when dealing with employee internal grievances of discrimination and harassment. It’s easy to discipline employees engaged in repetitive discriminatory or harassing behavior in the workplace.

More troublesome for employers, however, is the single racial slur or isolated incident of harassment, which can leave HR directors in search of legal guidance.


Continue Reading Can One Workplace Incident Create a Hostile Work Environment?

The recent turmoil, investigation and controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey has thrust the issue of wiretapping into the public and political spotlight. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!,” President Trump tweeted on May 12, 2017, suggesting that “tapes” of his private conversations with Director Comey might exist. Most recently, the White House, responding to bipartisan criticism, has been pressed to divulge whether there really are any secret recordings of the president’s private conversations with the former FBI Director. Time will tell whether the Trump Administration comes clean and whether any recordings actually do exist (and, if so, what the implications might be).

All of this commotion prompted me to think about wiretapping in the workplace and, specifically, the issue of audio recordings or, as President Trump has expressed, “tapes” of conversations secretly recorded by an employer of its employees. What types of audio or tape recordings are legally permitted in the employment environment?


Continue Reading Wiretapping in the Workplace

To say that Facebook and social media have complicated the relationship between employer and employee and, specifically, what an employee can say or do with respect to his/her work, is an understatement. Social media has added a new dimension to analyzing the intersection between employee speech and protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (the “NLRA”), and the level of protected activity has reached a new low.

A new line has been drawn in the sand, and the “outer-bounds of protected, union-related” activity has been reestablished by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In National Labor Relations Board v. Pier Sixty, LLC,  the Second Circuit was tasked with the challenge of determining to what extent the NLRA protects an employee’s comments on social media and the point at which an employee’s conduct is so “opprobrious” (i.e. abusive, pejorative, obscene, libelous) as to lose the NLRA’s protection.

In laymen’s terms, the question is: How badly can an employee behave and still keep his job if the employee’s behavior is at least loosely tethered to union-related activity? The answer, as explained below, is very badly.


Continue Reading Say What? The Second Circuit Establishes a New “Outer-Bounds” Limit to Protected Employee Speech