Talking to (or intimidating?) employees about the minimum wage referendum

New Jersey voters will decide on Tuesday whether to raise the state's minimum wage to $8.25 an hour, with an automatic increase tied to the Consumer Price Index. Not surprisingly, many employers aren't big fans of this referendum.

Can employers gather employees and express their feelings about how the vote should go, or does that count as intimidation?  Lawyer John J. Sarno, writing for the Employers Association of New Jersey, discusses employer options.

Sarno points out that in 2006, New Jersey legislators enacted the Worker Freedom from Employer Intimidation Act. The law prohibits most employers from requiring employees to attend employer-sponsored meetings or to participate in communications involving the employer's opinion about religious or political matters. Does the minimum wage referendum count as a political matter? Maybe. Employers can set up the meetings, but they must also inform employees that they do not have to attend and they won't be penalized for refusing.

That law might seem to prohibit employers from raising the raise issue at work, but Sarno said, the National Labor Relations Act does permit these so-called "captive audience" meetings and employers do have first amendment rights to free speech.

Sarno offers some advice to employers:

Make attendance mandatory.

Meetings with hourly workers and supervisors should be separate.

Hold the meeting during working time.

State that employee voting preferences are a private matter and that employees are free to vote their consciences.

Opinions should be well reasoned and based on business considerations.

Do not allow questions.