New Jersey recently enacted the Wage Theft Act (“WTA”), one of the strongest in the country, aimed at protecting employees and increasing employer responsibility for following labor laws.
- The majority of the WTA’s provisions went into effect immediately. New Jersey employers should be aware of the following:
- Previously, the Wage Collection Section (“WCS”) of the state Department of Labor (“DOL”) was limited to hearing claims of up to $30,000. The WTA raised this to $50,000;
- The WTA provides a rebuttable presumption against an employer for failure to maintain records as required by law. This presumption is especially important in criminal proceedings;
- There is a rebuttable presumption of retaliation against employers who take adverse action against employees for protected conduct, within 90 days of the conduct. Additionally, the WCS can now hear retaliation claims. Notably, protected conduct includes informing another employee of their rights related to wages and hours worked;
- The WTA allows employees to collect wages owed, as well as up to 200% of those wages owed as liquidated damages;
- In order to avoid paying liquidated damages for a first violation, an employer must demonstrate the violation was an inadvertent error made in good faith, must admit to the violation and pay any amount owed within 30 days of the notice of violation;
- The statute of limitations for claims under state wage and hour laws has been increased to six years from three;
- The WTA allows for employers and labor contractors to be held jointly and severally liable for violations of state wage and hour laws, including retaliation, and cannot be contractually waived;
- The WTA expands the scope of the criminal provisions of the wage and hour laws;
- Fines for violations will be between $500 and $1,000 for a first offense, with the option of 10 to 90 days of imprisonment; subsequent violations can result in fees between $1,000 and $2,000 and between 10 and 100 days of imprisonment;
- The WTA creates a rebuttable presumption of successor liability in WCS claims, meaning a successor company may be liable for violations of the predecessor; and
- Violators of wage and hour laws will be made public on the DOL’s website.
The state DOL will be providing a model notice for employers to distribute, advising employees of their rights of the WTA. HDRBB will circulate this notice to our clients when it becomes available.
WHAT SHOULD EMPLOYERS DO?
- Employers should carefully ensure they are in compliance with all state wage and hour laws.
- In order to ensure compliance, we recommend conducting an audit of employee classifications to ensure that each employee is properly classified as exempt, non-exempt, or as independent contractors, as well as ensuring that records are being properly maintained.