Written by Ravi Sattiraju on June 12, 2017
The New Jersey Wage Payment Law (the “NJWPL”) is codified at N.J.S.A. 34:11-4.1 to -33.6. The NJWPL governs the time and mode of payment of wages due to employees and is specifically designed to protect an employee’s wages and to assure timely and predictable payment. The NJWPL has been described as a “remedial statute” that “should be liberally construed.” Hargrove v. Sleepy’s, LLC, 220 N.J. 289, 303 (2015). It has a “humanitarian purpose”. Id. at 303-04 (citation omitted).
One provision of the NJWPL specifically prohibits employers from withholding or diverting “any portion of an employee’s wages” unless the withholdings are required by federal or state law or fall into one of eleven (11) specifically enumerated categories. N.J.S.A. 34:11-4.4. There exists a dearth of case law in New Jersey interpreting or construing this provision so what constitutes illegal withholdings or deductions is not well-settled. But there does exist some guidance. In Male v. Acme Markets, Inc., 110 N.J. Super. 9 (App. Div. 1970), it was held that a supermarket-employer may not require its cashiers at the check-out counters of its supermarkets to reimburse the supermarket from the employees’ wages for any shortages in the cashiers’ counters’ receipts (i.e. shortages in the employees’ cash drawers). Id. at 12-13. While the employer may attempt to obtain reimbursement in other ways, it is illegal under the NJWPL to withhold the shortages from the employees’ wages as it is an unlawful deduction under N.J.S.A.. 34:11-4.4.
In more recent times, violations of the NJWPL are plead as separate causes of action in class action lawsuits for what are deemed “unlawful deductions”, especially in the misclassification of independent contractor line of cases. For example, in Servenen v. EmpireCLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services, 2010 WL 5392873 (D.N.J. Dec. 22, 2010), a class of limousine drivers brought suit against a company the drivers asserted was their “employer” and alleged NJWPL violations based upon alleged unlawful deductions from the drivers’ wages for “leasing fees” for the vehicles the drivers operated on behalf of the employer, wage deductions for “pager and radio payments” and “fuel charges,” as well as “workers’ compensation insurance fees” and improperly withheld tips. Id. at *1.
For further example, it is very common in the truck driver misclassification setting that the employer will deduct the cost of fuel, tolls, uniforms, insurance, truck rental, lodging and other expenses that further the employer’s business from the employee’s wages. This is believed to be unlawful under the NJWPL and these employers attempt to circumvent the law by misclassifying the employees as “independent contractors”.
Finally, to be sure, the NJWPL provides a private cause of action for its violations. Winslow v. Corporate Express, Inc., 364 N.J. Super. 128, 138 (App. Div. 2003). This means aggrieved employees can file lawsuits against their employers when the employers violate the NJWPL, including its prohibition against unlawful deductions and withholdings.
If you believe that your employer is making or taking illegal deductions from your pay, or compelling you to pay for expenses that solely further the business interests of the employer, you may very well have a viable and lucrative claim under the New Jersey Wage Payment Law. Immediately contact the attorneys at The Sattiraju Law Firm, P.C. in Princeton, New Jersey at (609) 722-7039 for a free consultation. We fight for workers’ justice under a myriad of employee-rights statutes including the NJWPL.