New Jersey Enacts Wage Theft Law, Increasing Employer Liability For Wage And Hour Violations

On August 6, 2019, Acting Governor Sheila Oliver signed into law the Wage Theft Act (“WTA”). The WTA took effect immediately.

The WTA revises New Jersey’s existing wage payment law to significantly enhance employer exposure on all wage and hour violations. First, the WTA extends the statute of limitations on all claims from two years to six years. Second, the WTA provides for the potential for liquidated damages on each claim of up to two hundred percent of wages owed.

Employers can avoid the liquidated damages if it is their first violation of the wage payment law and the employer can show: (1) the violation was an inadvertent error made in good faith; (2) the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act was not a violation; and (3) the employer acknowledges the violation and pays the wages owed within thirty days of the notice of violation.

The WTA also provides additional employee protections for retaliation claims. The WTA creates a presumption that retaliation has occurred if an adverse action (discipline, reassignment, demotion, layoff, etc.) is taken within ninety days of the filing of a wage complaint. In addition to existing civil fines, the WTA also creates criminal penalties for corporate employers acting in retaliation – subjecting them to a disorderly persons offense. In addition, if an employee is discharged in retaliation for filing a wage payment complaint, the employer is required to offer reinstatement, unless prohibited by law, along with all lost wages as a result of that discharge.

Under the WTA, employers are also required to provide employees with a written copy of notice of their rights under the State wage payment law. The notice must include an explanation of how to file claims.

These changes expand protections for employees and increase employer liability. In light of the WTA, employers should ensure all of their policies are up to date and in compliance. Employers can reach out to the employment attorneys at Brown & Connery, LLP for assistance in revising their policies and guidance with this or any other employment challenge they face.