Today, New Jersey’s Acting Governor Sheila Oliver signed an amendment to New Jersey’s wage and hour laws that makes several extremely important improvements.
The amendment impacts several New Jersey laws, most importantly the Wage & Hour Law (“WHL”) and the Wage Payment Act (“WPA”). The WHL is a statute that requires employers to pay employees who do not fall within an exemption minimum wage ($10 per hour in 2019) and time-and-half when they work more than 40 hours in any particular workweek. The WPA is a law that requires employers to pay employees on time, and typically at least twice per month.
The amendment includes numerous new provisions, all of which go into effect immediately. We have summarized some of the most significant changes below:
Six Year Look Back Period: The period for which you can seek past damages under the WHL and the WPA, or the “look back period,” has been extended from 2 years to 6 years. For long term employees, this could dramatically increase the potential damages they can recover. It also protects employees who have waited a relatively long time before pursuing their legal claims.
Liquidated Damages: In addition to recovering their actual economic damages, now employees also can recover liquidated damages. The amount of these liquidated damages cannot exceed two times the unpaid wages. However, an employer does not have to pay liquidated damages for its first violation of the WHL or WPA if it can prove the violation was an “inadvertent error made in good faith,” it had “reasonable grounds to believe it was not violating the law,” and it pays the employee the full amount owed within 30 days after it receives notice of the violation.
Greater Protection Against Retaliation: Both statutes already prohibited employers from retaliating against employees who seek to enforce their rights under the statute. Under the amendment, employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees because they told someone else about their rights under a New Jersey wage and hour law.
Presumption of Retaliation: There is now a presumption of retaliation for any negative job action (such as firing or demoting an employee) that an employer takes against an employee within 90 days after the employee filed a complaint with the Department of Labor under either statute. There is a very high burden for an employer to rebut this presumption: “clear and convincing evidence that the action was taken for other, permissible, reasons.”
Attorney’s Fees: Employees who bring successful claims under the WPA will be able to recover their attorney’s fees from the employer. This already was true under the WPL before the amendment.
Right to Reinstatement: Employees who are fired in violation of the WHL or the WPA are entitled to be reinstated to their former jobs “unless the reinstatement is prohibited by law.”
Class Actions: While not a new right, the amendment makes it clear that employees still can bring class actions under the WHL and the WPA on behalf of similarly situated employees who have experienced the same violation of their rights.
Successor Liability: It is now easier to establish that a new company is the employer’s successor, and therefore liable for the employer’s violation of the WHL or the WPA. Specifically, employees only have to show that two, rather than three, of a series of characteristics are shared by the two companies. Those characteristic include that the two companies:
- Perform similar work in the same geographical area;
- Are located at the same physical place;
- Have the same telephone or fax number;
- Have the same email address or website;
- Have essentially the same workforce; or
- Use the same tools, equipment or facilities.
If you believe you have been denied overtime pay, were not paid minimum wage, or have been the victim of retaliation in violation of New Jersey’s wage & hour laws, then please feel free to contact us at (201) 777-2250.