New Jersey Wage and Hour Laws
The wage and hour laws of each state, including New Jersey, can be unique in many aspects. In other respects, they are often very similar. Our attorneys have litigated wage and hour disputes in federal and state courts across the country. From this experience, we have developed extensive knowledge of the various rules and requirements in this field of law. Contact our Firm today to see if our attorneys can provide you the legal assistance you need.
New Jersey Minimum Wage
Through its wage and hour laws, New Jersey declares a public policy “to establish a minimum wage level for workers in order to safeguard their health, efficiency, and general well-being and to protect them as well as their employers from the effects of serious and unfair competition resulting from wage levels detrimental to their health, efficiency and well-being.” See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a. Accordingly, employers may not employ employees at “oppressive and unreasonable wage[s],” as defined by law. See N.J.S.A.
New Jersey sets its own minimum wage rate, which exceeds the federal rate set forth by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(a); 29 U.S.C. § 206. As of July 1, 2020, the minimum wage rate for most workers in New Jersey is $11.00 per hour. Id. However, this rate is lower is for certain other types of employers or employees, such as “small employers” as defined under New Jersey law (i.e., employers with less than 6 employees during a certain time period). See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(c); See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a1(p).
Like many other states, the minimum wage rate is scheduled by law to increase each year along with the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”). Id. And New Jersey law further specifies that, if the federal rate is ever increased to exceed the New Jersey rate, the New Jersey rate shall be increased to the federal rate, with subsequent increases determined based upon CPI increases. Id.
Finally, New Jersey law address the issue of paying minimum wages to tipped employees. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(e). For calendar years 2020 through 2022, employers may take a tip credit equal to $7.87 per hour—that is, employers must pay tipped employees an hourly wage rate of at least $3.13 prior to tips, which is a dollar higher than the federal rate for tipped employees. Id.
New Jersey Overtime
New Jersey also sets forth minimum rates related to the payment of overtime to employees. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(b). Like the FLSA, New Jersey law predicates the applicability of overtime premium pay rates based on the standard 40-hour workweek—that is, employers must pay employees at a rate of time-and-a-half their regular hourly rate of pay for each hour worked over 40 in a workweek. Id. New Jersey otherwise provides for similar, but distinct, rules and requirements on exemptions. Id.
New Jersey law further declares a public policy regarding overtime work for health care facility employees. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a31. This law states New Jersey’s public policy is “to establish a maximum work week for certain hourly wage health care facility employees, beyond which the employees cannot be required to perform overtime work, in order to safeguard their health, efficiency, and general well-being as well as the health and general well-being of the persons to whom these employees provide services.” Id.
In light of this policy statement, New Jersey law provides that “[t]he requirement that an employee of a health care facility accept work in excess of an agreed to, predetermined and regularly scheduled daily work shift, not to exceed 40 hours per week, except in the case of an unforeseeable emergent circumstance when the overtime is required only as a last resort and is not used to fill vacancies resulting from chronic short staffing and the employer has exhausted reasonable efforts to obtain staffing, is declared to be contrary” to such policy and void. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a33.
As a result, such health care facility employers are prohibited from requiring such employees to work more than 40 hours per week per such a schedule. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a34. Such employees may still voluntarily work overtime. Id. However, they cannot be discriminated against for refusing to do so, and employers must keep documentation of all events (e.g., emergency circumstances) that cause an employer to require employees to work overtime. Id.
New Jersey law authorizes employees to bring civil actions against their employers to recover any unpaid minimum or overtime wages. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25. It also entitles employees to individually or collectively bring civil actions to recover unpaid wages and/or other damages that may result from retaliatory action by an employer against an employee for making an unpaid wage complaint. Id.; see also N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a24. If an employee prevails in such an action, the employee may recover his or her unpaid wages, an additional amount equal to not more than 200 percent of the unpaid wage amount, plus costs and reasonable attorney’s fees as determined by the court. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.
However, for a first-time violation, an employer may be able to avoid the imposition of liquidated damages if the employer convinces the court that the act or omission constituting 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, so long as the employer acknowledges that it violated the law and pays the amount owed within 30 days of notice of the violation. Id.
Unlike the FLSA, New Jersey wage and hour law sets a statute of limitations at 6 years. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.1. The statute of limitations under the FLSA is only 2 years, with a possibility of extending to three years if the employee can prove a willful violation. See 29 U.S.C. § 255.
Nonetheless, New Jersey has a “complete defense” statute for minimum or overtime wage violations, which the FLSA does not. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. Under New Jersey law, “no employer shall be subject to any liability or punishment for or on account of the failure of the employer to pay minimum wages or overtime compensation under this act, if he pleads and proves that the act or omission complained of was in good faith in conformity with and in reliance on any written administrative regulation, order, ruling, approval or interpretation by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry or the Director of the Wage and Hour Bureau, or any administrative practice or enforcement policy of such department or bureau with respect to the class of employees to which he belonged.” Id. If an employer can make such a case, it is a “complete bar” to the legal action or proceeding, even if the guidance is later declared to be invalid or legally void. Id.
New Jersey, like many other states, has a law requiring employers to timely pay employees on a regular basis. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-4.2. In particular, New Jersey law requires employers to “pay the full amount of wages due to his employees at least twice during each calendar month, on regular paydays designated in advance by the employer.” Id. The law adds: “[t]he end of the pay period for which payment is made on a regular payday shall be not more than 10 working days before such regular payday.” Id.
Similarly, New Jersey law provides from prompt payment of wages to employees upon the end of their employment. See N.J.S.A. 34:11-4.3. Employers must pay employees all wages due to them no later than the regular payday for the pay period during which the end of employment occurs. Id.
Violation(s) of these wage payment laws may result in an employee filing a civil action to recover any alleged wages due, plus an amount of liquidated damages equal to not more than 200 percent of the wages lost or of the wages due, together with costs and reasonable attorney’s fees as allowed by the court. See N.J.S.A. § 34:11-4.10. However, the first-time violation rule on liquidated damages that applies to minimum wage and overtime violations also applies to these types of violations. Id. Civil actions for wage underpayments may be brought individually or collectively. Id. This law also prohibits employers from taking retaliatory actions against employees for submitting such wage complaints. Id. Similar remedies and actions are available to redress retaliation claims. Id.
The nature and scope of your wage and hour legal rights and duties are not always clear, especially as federal and state laws overlap and speak differently on similar issues. Retaining an attorney with significant experience and knowledge of wage and hour laws across the country is the best place to start to understand your rights and duties. If you are in or around Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Lakewood, Woodbridge, Edison, Toms River, Hamilton Township, Clifton or Trenton, please do not wait to contact Dolley Law by telephone (314) 645-4100 or by email at email@example.com to discuss whether our Firm can provide you the legal help that you need.