Governor Phil Murphy—officially in office just two days—has already begun to implement many of the "progressive" policy changes he promised on the campaign trail and transform New Jersey into the "California of the East." On January 16, just hours after being sworn in, the new governor took the first step in making his policy platform reality when he signed an Executive Order prohibiting public employers from inquiring into the wage history of job applicants before making an offer of employment that includes a compensation package.

This Order, effective February 1, aims to address gender pay inequity—one of 29 issues expressly articulated on Gov. Murphy's campaign website. Of these, almost half deal with issues involving the economy or labor and employment. With Democrats in control of the statehouse and the legislature, New Jersey businesses are likely to see major changes in state labor and employment law and related policies soon.

Gov. Murphy has made economic reform his "central focus." As part of that reform, he has an ambitious labor agenda that includes:

  • Expanding small business incubators to incentivize new businesses—and new employers—to start up in New Jersey

  • Implementing economic and labor measures aimed at growing the middle class:

    • Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour

    • Mandating paid sick leave

    • Creating a public bank that, among other things, will allow women- and minority-owned businesses increased access to capital

    • Addressing retirement savings through public pension reform and offering an opt-in retirement plan for employees of privately owned small businesses

  • Appointing a cabinet, with a newly created Chief Diversity Officer position, that will publish an annual review of state diversity contracting and procurement law

  • Adding public contract provisions for set-asides for LGBTQ-owned businesses, like the ones that exist for women- and minority-owned businesses

Endorsed by more than 50 organized labor organizations, Gov. Murphy has been consistent in his pro-union policy positions. He intends to engage "the state's unions, employers, and educators to create clear pathways for lifelong learning and good jobs." He also takes the position that any changes to workers' benefits must be made through the collective bargaining process, and he has said that he will "oppose any effort to turn New Jersey into a right-to-work state." Right-to-work laws, which have become popular across the country in recent years, prohibit unions and employers from requiring employees to join or otherwise support a union as a condition of employment.

On top of these specific initiatives, Gov. Murphy has said that he will support: legislation strengthening penalties for wage discrimination; efforts to make striking workers eligible for unemployment benefits after 30 days; and increased access to professional licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Finally, Gov. Murphy has declared that he will sign legislation to legalize recreational use of marijuana. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney has promised to introduce such a bill within the next three months. "Legal" pot could have a significant impact on employer anti-drug policies.

Although Gov. Murphy is only two days into his term, his left-of-center platform takes aim at a variety of issues that will impact the state's employers and employees. Ballard Spahr's Labor and Employment Group will continue to monitor changes in law and policy and can assist clients in navigating and preparing for what the new administration may bring.


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