New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law (the “NJW&H Law”) protects the rights of most hourly employees. If you are an employee being paid on hourly basis, whether minimum wage or not, it is important to understand the rights afforded to you by the State of New Jersey. After reading this information, if you believe your employer is violating the NJW&H Law, contact our offices and request a consultation to evaluate your claims.
Minimum Wage Employees
The federal government has mandated a nationwide minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Each state legislature is free set its own minimum wage at a rate equal to or higher than $7.25 per hour. New Jersey’s minimum wage for 2019 is $8.85 per hour. This represents a $.25 per hour increase to the New Jersey minimum wage rate in 2018.
The NJW&H Law has declared it to be the public policy of the State “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” N.J.S.A.§ 34:11-56a. “Wages” consist of any money due an employee for services rendered as a result of their employment relationship including commissions, bonus and piecework compensation and including any tips for services rendered to the employer’s customers. N.J.S.A.§ 34:11-56a1(d). Your “regular hourly wage” is determined by dividing your total earnings for the week, excluding overtime pay, by the total hours of work during the week. N.J.S.A. § 34:11-56a1(e). Any employment at an oppressive and unreasonable wage has been declared contrary to New Jersey public policy and any contract, agreement or understanding in relation to such employment shall be void. N.J.S.A.§ 34:11-56a3. A wage is oppressive and unreasonable if it is both less than the fair and reasonable value of the service rendered and less than sufficient to meet the minimum cost of living necessary for health. N.J.S.A. § 34:11-56a1.
The NJW&H Law obligates employers to pay most hourly employees 1 ½ times the employee’s regular hourly wage for each hour worked in excess of 40 in any given work week. N.J.S.A. § 34:11-56a4. The overtime rate does not apply to individuals employed in a bona fide executive, administrative or professional capacity. Additionally, the overtime rate does not apply to part-time live-in nannies or au pairs, to persons under the age of 18 not possessing a vocational school graduate permit, to automobile salesman, to those employed as outside salespeople, to persons. N.J.S.A. § 34:11-56a4. Other specific statutory exceptions do apply.
Calculating Claims for Unpaid Minimum Wage and Unpaid Overtime
In minimum wage situations, if your regular hour wage is below $7.25, you may be able to collect unpaid wages from the employer. The amount of unpaid wages is calculated by multiplying the number of hours worked in any given week by the difference between $7.25 and your hourly rate [i.e. hours worked x (7.25 – hourly rate) = unpaid wages].
In situations where an employer fails to pay out overtime, you can collect 50% of your hourly wage for every hour worked in excess of 40 per week as unpaid wages i.e. [(hours worked – 40) x ½ regularly hourly rate].
Making A Claim for Unpaid Wages, Employee Protection and Attorney’s Fees
An hourly employee should get into the daily habit of writing down the number of hours worked each day, including time spent working after the employee may have “clocked out.” Having an independent record of hours can be used in a claim for unpaid wages as evidence to corroborate or refute an employer’s payroll records.
If your employer owes you money for unpaid wages, you can file a claim with the New Jersey Department of Labor (“DOL”) and/or by filing a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court. Wage claims made to the DOL cannot exceed $30,000. You are not required to hire an attorney to file a wage claim with the DOL. You can make claims for unpaid wages to the DOL online at https://wagehour.dol.state.nj.us/default.htm. Once a claim to the DOL is received, a summons to the employer will be issued and a hearing date will be set with a referee. Both you and your employer must attend the hearing date. Both parties may offer evidence and be heard prior to the referee making his or her decision.
An advantage to filing your wage claim in New Jersey Superior Court is that your reasonable attorney’s fees and costs may be added to your unpaid wages as damages and recovered. N.J.S.A. § 34:11-56a25. Additionally, claims made in Superior Court can exceed $30,000. However, claims made in Superior Court will typically take longer to adjudicate.
Whether you make a wage claim to the DOL or in Superior Court, a two-year statute of limitations applies. N.J.S.A.§ 34:11-56a25.1. This means you can only recover for unpaid wages due in the two-years prior to the filing of a complaint. Furthermore, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against or terminating an employee for making a wage claim under the NJW&H Law. If an employer terminates an employee for making a claim under the NJW&H Law, and the employee prevails, the employer must offer reinstatement of the employee in addition to paying all wages lost as a result of the termination. N.J.S.A.§ 34:11-56a24.
The NJW&H Law was enacted to safeguard hourly workers health, efficiency, and general well-being by providing a legal remedy against employers who fail to adequately compensate their employees. If you believe you are being treated unfairly by an employer, we recommend keeping detailed records of your time worked and contacting an experienced employment law attorney. The NJW&H Law can be used to get you paid what you deserve while protecting your continued employment in the process. This is a specialized are of law with many exceptions not mentioned here. We have the knowledge and experience to evaluate your claim and guide you through the process. Contact our offices anytime to schedule a free consultation.