On August 6, 2019, New Jersey signed the Wage Theft Act (WTA) into law, which is considered by many to be one of the most – if not the most – comprehensive laws in the United States on the topic. The WTA corresponds with the passage of the State’s new minimum-wage law that increases hourly wages to $15 for most workers by 2024. Part of the intention behind WTA was to discourage employers from failing to provide the annual pay bumps that will eventually bring the wage to $15 per hour.
The WTA imposes penalties upon employers who violate the State’s Wage and Hour Laws. Penalties include a fine of $500 to $1,000 for a first violation, or imprisonment of 10 to 90 days, or both; and a fine of $1,000 to $2,000 for a second or subsequent violation, or imprisonment of 10 to 100 days, or both. An employer that violates the State Wage and Hour Laws may be liable for liquidated damages in an amount up to 200% of the wages due to the employee (including wages lost as a result of retaliation). A “pattern of wage non-payment” is now a third-degree crime punishable by three- to five-years imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. An employer who owes a worker $5,000 will be subject to State audits. However, first-time offenders have the opportunity to avoid liquidated damages if they can demonstrate that the violation was “an inadvertent error made in good faith and that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a violation”. To benefit from such protection, the employer must admit to a violation and pay the full amount owed within 30 days of notice of the violation. Client-employers and labor contractors are now jointly and severally liable “for any violations of the provisions of State wage and hour laws,” including those on retaliation. Any waiver of this joint and several liability section is void and unenforceable.
If an employer fails to maintain records required by law, there is a rebuttable presumption “that the employee worked for the employer for the period of time and for the amount of wages as alleged in the wage claim”. The presumption does not apply if records were lost due to natural disasters. In addition, there is a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if the employer takes an adverse action against an employee within 90 days of any conduct protected under the State Wage and Hour Laws, such as bringing an internal or external complaints. The presumption may be overcome only by “clear and convincing evidence” that the employer took the alleged retaliatory action for permissible reasons.
The WTA also increases the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Wage Collection Section (WCS) both in terms of the monetary value of claims, but also allows it to litigate retaliation claims as well. It extends the statute of limitations to six-year statute of limitations to bring claims (including for retaliation) under the State Wage and Hour Laws, up from two years.
And lastly, the WTA requires employers to provide to each current and newly hired employee a notice of employee rights under the State Wage and Hour Laws. The notice also must explain how to file claims. Violations of the WTA will be made public on the NJDLWD’s website.
If you have any questions as to how this law impacts you, the experienced attorneys at the Zazzali Law Firm are ready to answer any inquiries you may have.