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Worker Protections Under NJ Wage and Anti-Retaliation Law



Wage protections for workers in New Jersey are among the strongest in the country. A state law signed August 6, 2019, helps protect workers in several important ways:

  1. You can collect wages and file a case for retaliation going back six years from the date of your claim.
  2. Liability against businesses using contractors who fail to pay wages is strengthened.
  3. You can receive treble damages, or liquidated damages, of up to 200% of the original wage claim.
  4. The law clarifies that an employee—through reasonable testimony and without records—can establish a claim for hours worked if the employer fails to keep adequate records.
  5. The New Jersey Department of   Labor must file claims if the employer has not paid appropriate compensation.
  6. Anti-retaliation protections for workers are strengthened.  

Claims for unpaid minimum and overtime wages, and claims involving retaliation by employers for wage complaints can now be filed within six years, up from two years. It can be scary to raise wage concerns such as nonpayment of overtime while you are still working. This additional time provides greater opportunity to resolve claims that were difficult to bring while you were working, or claims that were unknown to you. 

Another key portion of the new statute lets workers file claims against two or more separate employers to obtain wages. One common way employers avoid expenses such as overtime is by using a less financially and legally responsible contractor or business to pay workers. The revised law holds accountable businesses that subcontract work to contractors if the work involved is that of the usual course of business. Individual owners, managers, businesses, and their contractors can be held responsible for nonpayment of wages.

If a business has moved or changed its name and the owner is operating a new business, you can still file a claim against that individual owner, even if the corporate business no longer exists. The new statute also makes it easier to go after a successor business performing similar work, using the same premises, telephone, or website.    

For example, if you are not paid time-and-a-half for work over 40 hours in a week, you may have a claim, even if you’re on salary, or even if you were told that only 40 hours would be paid. If you work 50 hours a week and have a $500 salary, you will be owed $50 in half time per week, which can go back six years, unless you are subject to an exemption, such as spending the majority of your time managing other workers.

In addition, just because your employer has required you to state that you are an independent contractor does not make it so. If you are supervised, or do not have an independent business, you are likely an employee, entitled to overtime pay, unemployment benefits, and workers compensation. 

Under this law, damages for workers bringing wage and retaliation claims have been substantially increased. Unless the employer can show that the unpaid wage error was made in good faith, with a reasonable basis to believe the practice complied with law, the employer can be forced to pay the unpaid wages, plus twice that amount in damages. This also applies to workers who are fired for making wage complaints to their employers. The employer must overcome a presumption that the firing is retaliatory if it is within 90 days of a complaint made to the employer or the department. 

For overtime and unpaid hours, a worker can testify to a reasonable estimate without records, to calculate the wages owed. It is the employer’s duty to keep a record of hours worked. Even if past hours have to be reasonably estimated based on your usual work hours, you can still bring your claim.

Wage law protects all workers regardless of status in the United States, and rightly so. Lack of protection for immigrant workers would give unscrupulous employers more incentives to hire workers who can be abused. Regardless of status, both citizens and undocumented workers can go forward with wage claims. The procedure for filing a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Labor was also strengthened. You can ask the department to initiate your complaint, collect your wages and additional damages of 200%, file your retaliation claim, and pursue damages of up to $50,000. The complaint form is on the New Jersey Department of Labor website.                          

Contact the LSNJLAWSM hotline at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529) or apply online for help in filing wage claims or for help with other job-related issues.​​​