Tuesday, July 5, 2011
New Jersey Employer’s Maternity Leave Policy is an Implied Employment Contract
The Appellate Division of New Jersey's Superior Court has found that an employee could have reasonably interpreted her employer's letters regarding her maternity leave as a promise of reinstatement precluding termination, despite that she was an at-will employee. Lapidoth v. Telcordia Technologies, Inc.,No. A-1545-09T1 (NJ App. Div. 2011).
The company’s at-will policy was written and distributed to all employees and the employee signed an employment application acknowledging that her employment was at-will. When the employee took a leave of absence for the birth of her child, her employer repeatedly guaranteed reinstatement to the same or comparable job, even extending the leave beyond the initial three months. The court found that, even though the company clearly provided that her employment was at-will, the employer’s letters relating its policy on maternity leave guaranteed reinstatement. According to the court, a “reasonable employee” could interpret the company-wide policy on maternity leave as promising reinstatement.
Employers in New Jersey should be aware that a company policy or promise of reinstatement may override that employee’s at-will status and all policies and employee communications should be reviewed in light of this decision.