Do I have any rights if I am retaliated against for complaining about work conditions?
Yes, you do! Many low-wage workers face challenges involving their work conditions and pay. Some workers who complain about such conditions face retaliation and termination. Fortunately, retaliation is illegal. In New Jersey, workers have the right to sue for damages in court when employers discriminate against them for taking action or discussing action to improve conditions.
But what if the boss who hired me is only a subcontractor for someone else, and my boss disappears or goes broke? What can I do?
You still have rights! Some employers take advantage of the demand for jobs to violate employment laws and threaten workers who speak out against such abuses. One factor that can lead to this violation of rights is the subcontracting of the workforce. Some employers who subcontract labor feel protected from the claims of the workers. This makes them think they can do things they would not do if they felt that they were directly accountable. The good news is that state and federal wage laws that protect against retaliation apply to the company, the contractor, and the subcontractor. This protection includes labor subcontractors such as temporary help agencies, labor contractors, and labor leasing firms, and also covers problems when your job is outsourced.
An employee who has had wage and working condition violations, or who is terminated because of complaints about such conditions, may be discouraged from going through with the claim because the subcontractor has disappeared or has few resources. But wage law may allow you to go after the individual paying you as well as those who are acting jointly with that person.
What kinds of jobs and work conditions are covered by these laws?
The laws cover most jobs and many work conditions. A few examples of jobs are office building service workers, garment workers, and even computer programmers. Some of the work conditions include reduced pay, difficulty collecting pay, barriers to organizing workers, minimum wage and overtime problems, and health and safety violations.
I am an undocumented worker. Do I have any labor rights?
Yes, you do. Another factor in the violation of wage and employment laws has been the abuse of the increasing number of undocumented workers in the workforce. Employers may view such people as having no rights, or not having the ability to enforce such rights. In fact, undocumented workers can and do enforce their rights to workplace protection. The U.S. Department of Labor has made this clear in its current policy on wage collection. For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) provide labor protections for vulnerable workers, including undocumented workers. The FLSA requires employers to pay covered employees a minimum wage and, in general, one and a half times an employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime hours. The MSPA requires employers and farm labor contractors to pay the wages owed to migrant or seasonal agricultural workers when the payments are due.
What are the laws that give workers protection?
There are both state and federal laws that protect workers in New Jersey against retaliation, discrimination, and unlawful termination. Many of the workplace protection laws provide protection for workers exercising their rights. Some of the chief federal laws are as follows:
The following state laws protect workers:
What should I do if I think my employer has retaliated against me?
If you are faced with workplace problems, you can contact your regional Legal Services program to get advice on your rights and the next steps in your case. Don’t be afraid to call!
This information last reviewed: Aug 15, 2019