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Tourism expert talks bills affecting business - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Tourism expert talks bills affecting business

Topics include employee scheduling, contract workers, marijuana and panic buttons

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Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2019 2:25 pm

ATLANTIC CITY — A tourism expert spoke about legislation affecting employee scheduling, panic buttons for hotel employees and a possible referendum for recreational marijuana use during the New Jersey Conference on Tourism last week.

Joseph Simonetta, executive director of the New Jersey Conference on Tourism, addressed participants during the conference Wednesday, Dec. 4, and Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City.

He spoke Dec. 4 during a legislative update session, along with 2nd District Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo and Donald Hoover, of the Fairleigh Dickinson University International School of Hospitality and Tourism.  Mazzeo spoke in place of New Jersey Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald.

Simonetta reminded the audience the state Legislature is in a lame-duck session until the next session begins in January. 

A scheduling notification bill, which Simonetta said is not yet drafted but would likely move forward next year, could affect local employers. 

“The major elements of the scheduling notification bill is employees are to be given their schedule 14 days in advance of the actual workweek. That’s where we think this is going,” he said. 

The bill prohibits “clopening,” which is when an employee has a closing shift followed by an early opening shift. The bill would mandate a minimum rest period of 10 hours between an employee’s shifts. 

“There’s also predictability of pay. You’re supposed to be able to predict the employee’s pay for whatever the pay period is,” he said. “It prohibits shift-changing. It will prohibit adding shifts without the proper notification. It will prohibit deleting hours or violating any of the ‘clopening’ operations.”

According to Simonetta, the NJTIA is working to include a weather provision in the bill. As an example, he said they are working with an individual who owns a Rita’s Italian Ice location.  Under the bill, if it starts raining in the afternoon at Rita’s and four employees are working, the employer would have to pay those four employees, as opposed to sending them home the way the bill is currently written, Simonetta said. 

“There’s a lot of things that are going to be involved in this bill that could really affect the tourism industry,” he said. 


Independent contactors


He also discussed a proposed bill that would affect independent contractors. It would require independent contractors to: be free from control or direction over the performance of that service; to do work outside of the usual course of business for which the service is performed, or the service is performed outside of the places of business of the employer; and be customarily engaged in an independently established business or enterprise of the same nature as that involved in the work performed. 

Simonetta said that previously, an independent contractor was “someone who gets a 1099, does not work or is not controlled by the employing person, and is not necessarily in a similar business as the employing entity or person.”

A 1099 is a tax-reporting document for an independent contractor.

The proposed legislation “is basically saying an independent contractor is no longer someone who is just a single individual that gets a 1099 that does work for you, that is not classified as an employee that works for you, and has to be engaged in an independently established business or enterprise of the same nature as that involved in the work being performed,” he said. 

“The reason this is being done, not only in New Jersey, it is also all over the country, is a move by the Teamsters union to take out of the independent contractors classification, truckers, but it is also looking at the gig economy, at the Ubers, at the Lyfts, people who really work full time for a particular company but are 1099,” he said. 

Simonetta said when legislation like this goes through the “intention is generally good,” but he said it “casts a wide net.”

He said what they are finding is it could be “harmful to some entities, like our amusement piers, like our wineries, things that are structured around weather. There is no weather exemption on this independent contractor bill for certain entities, so we’re looking at that,” he said.  


Recreation marijuana


Legislative action in the next few months could add the legalization of recreational marijuana as a referendum question on the ballot in the November 2020 election. 

According to the presentation, a public hearing on this subject is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 12. 

“In order to get it on the ballot, you must pass a ballot referendum question in two consecutive legislative sessions,” he said, noting the timing is perfect to do so. 

“They pass it in both houses before the second Tuesday in January, and then they pass it again in January, and then more likely than not it will be on this November’s ballot,” he said. 


Panic buttons


He also discussed legislation requiring panic buttons in some hotels to help protect employees. 

The bill requires hotels with 100 or more guest rooms to equip employees who perform housekeeping and room service tasks with panic devices in case of harassment or assault. 

If a guest is convicted of a crime related to an incident that involved a panic device or which was reported by a hotel employee, the hotel is required to refuse occupancy to that guest for three years. 

He said the bill’s authors worked closely with the NJTIA “to make sure it was doable legislation, legislation that was not burdensome to the hotels but at the same time protected the employees from harassment and assault.”


More cultural, arts funds


On another topic, Simonetta said more funding is allocated for the state’s arts, history and cultural programs. According to the presentation, a bill would increase the minimum amount that must be allocated for cultural projects to $31.9 million. 

Under the bill, the New Jersey Historical Commission would see a $2 million increase, to $5.5 million per year, and the state Division of Travel and Tourism would receive $17.6 million, up from $12.76 million.

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