Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Why Proactive Employment Law Advice Is Similar to a Fram Oil Filter

Posted on by Christine Michelle Duffy, Pro Bono Partnership

CC Kathryn Decker



You may recall the highly successful marketing campaign involving Fram oil filters. In a series of advertisements, an auto mechanic would advise drivers, “The choice is yours. You can pay me now, or pay me later,” suggesting that spending a few dollars up front for a quality oil filter could save hundreds in future repair costs.

Many employers that have lost employment-related lawsuits could say the same thing about their failure to take preemptive steps to avoid the landmines they stepped on.

For proactive legal advice, Pro Bono Partnership is the Fram oil filter for 501(c)(3) nonprofits in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. We help nonprofits minimize the risk of costly lawsuits and unfavorable business transactions by providing legal advice on how to properly structure their business activities. Better yet, with a few exceptions, our services are free.

Pie Chart.jpegEmployment is one of the biggest risk areas for organizations. In fact, more than a quarter of the legal issues nonprofits present to us each year pertain to employment law.

This should not be surprising. Employees are the heart of an organization, and employment law landmines — new and old — are everywhere.

For example, in the past two years, jurisdiction after jurisdiction (including New Jersey) has adopted laws that “ban the box” on employment applications and otherwise limit employers’ freedom to ask applicants about their criminal histories. Other laws, such as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, also place significant limits on questions employers can ask both applicants and current employees.

Employers must comply with an array of laws that govern every aspect of the employment relationship. The laws are so pervasive that their corresponding acronyms are widely known to the workforce: ACA, ADA, COBRA, FMLA, HIPAA ….  The legal landscape is ever evolving.

For example, in the past three years, more than 10 New Jersey municipalities have enacted paid sick leave ordinances, and two new state laws governing leaves and workplace accommodations — the NJ SAFE Act and the New Jersey Pregnancy Discrimination and Accommodation Law — have gone into effect.  Similarly, the rapidly moving tsunami of positive change with respect to public acceptance of LGBT people is being matched with a flood of new workplace protections for such individuals. With the Internet, employees have access to summaries of their legal rights, and they easily can file complaints with regulatory agencies, post vulgar gripes, and find lawyers.

Many of the nonprofits with which we work don’t have a full-time human resources professional on staff. Often the CFO or COO has taken on the HR function by default, without training or experience in HR. Pro Bono Partnership supports these managers (as well as the HR professionals at nonprofits fortunate enough to afford such a position) with guidance on how to comply with the complicated maze of laws governing employment. All a nonprofit need do is call us, at (973) 240-6955.

In addition, we offer periodic training on these topics via webinars and at various conferences (such as our Art of Hiring & Firing workshop at this week’s Annual NJ Land Conservation Rally). Our website has an extensive selection of articles on employment law topics, links to a few of which are included above.

In future posts, we will cover the legal and human resource aspects of the employment life cycle. Topics will include hiring, performance management, employee handbooks, wage-hour compliance, LGBT-related workplace issues, and conducting internal investigations. In the interim, we are just a phone call away — 973-240-6955 — if your nonprofit needs business or transactional legal assistance.

Christine Michelle Duffy croppedChristine Michelle Duffy is a senior staff attorney with Pro Bono Partnership.  Christine is editor-in-chief and contributing author of the critically acclaimed treatise Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace: A Practical Guide, all royalties from which are being donated to the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and was the lead author of the employment discrimination chapter in New Jersey Employment Law.

In 2015, the New Jersey office of Pro Bono Partnership helped 299 nonprofit clients with 654 formal projects – projects that required intensive involvement from one of their three NJ-based staff lawyers or 261 volunteer lawyers from corporate law departments and law firms.  In addition, the Parsippany office fielded 788 resource calls for nonprofits looking for legal guidance in responding to pressing business decisions. 

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