In August 2019, New Jersey substantially amended its wage and hour laws in a number of ways, which include tougher civil and criminal liabilities for wage theft. The best way to enforce your rights under the new wage theft law is to consult an experienced employment law attorney.
Most provisions of the new law were effective immediately, including:
Statute of Limitations
The new law increases the amount of time to file claims for unpaid minimum wage and overtime payments from two to six years. This applies to both actions initiated by the Commissioner of Labor and civil actions filed by employees.
Such damages were not previously available under New Jersey law. Now, in addition to paying earned, unpaid wages, employers will be liable for liquidated damages up to 200 percent of wages owed. That is significant. New York law allows only 100 percent in liquidated damages. There is a limited defense against liquidated damages for first-time violators under certain circumstances, however.
The amendment expands New Jersey’s anti-retaliation provisions by making it a disorderly persons offense to take retaliatory action against an employee (e.g. discharging or taking any other adverse employment action) for complaining about wages, pursuing a wage and hour claim, or informing other employees about their rights concerning wages and hours of work. In addition, there is a presumption of retaliation for adverse employment actions taken within 90 days of an employee filing a claim with the Commissioner or pursuing court action. The presumption is rebuttable if the employer provides clear and convincing evidence that the adverse action was taken for permissible reasons.
Fines and Penalties
An employer that knowingly fails to pay wages, compensation or benefits when due or that takes retaliatory action, must pay wages owed plus 200 percent in liquidated damages, reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees. There is also a $500 fine for a first offense and increased fines for subsequent offenses. Under certain circumstances, an employer faces an additional penalty of 20 percent of wages due and/or imprisonment. Finally, the amendment broadens the definition of “employer” to include officers of a corporation and any agents with a management role in the corporation.
New Criminal Liability
The amendment creates a new crime of “pattern of wage nonpayment.” A person knowingly commits a crime of pattern of nonwage payment if they have been convicted of a violation of certain provisions of the Criminal Justice Code and/or wage and hour laws on two or more occasions. This provision becomes effective 3 months after the August 9th enactment date of the new law.
New Jersey’s amended wage theft law gives employees powerful legal recourse against employers who fail to pay the minimum wage or overtime or who engage in other types of wage theft. If you believe that you have a valid wage and hour claim, contact the employment law attorneys at Lipsky Lowe, LLP today.