Written by Ravi Sattiraju on July 5, 2017
New Jersey is generally viewed as a “liberal” state with liberal laws. However, New Jersey is falling behind in its wage protections afforded to workers within its borders as compared to states with similar wage laws like New York and Massachusetts.
The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, codified at N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a to 56a38 (the “NJWHL”), was enacted by the New Jersey Legislature in 1966. Yellow Cab Co. of Camden v. State, 126 N.J. Super. 81, 85 (App. Div. 1973), certif. denied, 64 N.J. 498 (1974). In enacting the NJWHL, the Legislature expressly stated in the statute’s preamble provision that:
It is declared to be the public policy of this 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. It therefore promotes two purposes: (1) to safeguard the health, efficiency, and general well-being of New Jersey’s workers by protecting them from detrimental wage levels; and (2) to protect employers from the effects of serious and unfair competition resulting from such detrimental wage levels. See e.g. New Jersey Dep’t of Labor v. Pepsi-Cola, Co., 170 N.J. 59, 62 (2001).
The NJWHL has been described as legislation that encompasses a “humanitarian and remedial nature”. Yellow Cab, supra, 126 N.J. Super. at 86; see also In re Raymour and Flanigan Furniture, 405 N.J. Super. 367, 376 (App. Div. 2009). It “address[es] the most fundamental terms of the employment relationship.” Hargrove v. Sleepy’s LLC, 220 N.J. 289, 313 (2015). “Put simply, the nature of the [NJWHL’s] statutory scheme is to ‘protect employees from unfair wages and excessive hours.’” In re Raymour, 405 N.J. Super. at 376 (quoting Keeley v. Loomis Fargo & Co., 183 F.3d 257, 259 (3d Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1138 (2000)); Sleepy’s, 220 N.J. at 313 (same).
Despite its “humanitarian and remedial nature”, the NJWHL is falling behind in its protections to New Jersey workers. For example, the current minimum wage rate in New Jersey, which became effective on January 01, 2017, is $8.44 per hour. N.J.A.C. 12:56-3.1(a). In New York, under the New York Labor Law (the “NYLL”), the minimum wage rates are as follows: $11.00 per hour for employers in New York City with 11 or more employees ($13.00 per hour on and after December 31, 2017); $10.50 per hour for employers in New York City with 10 or less employees ($12.00 per hour on and after December 31, 2017); $10.00 per hour for employers in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties ($11.00 per hour on and after December 31, 2017); and $9.70 per hour in the rest of the State ($10.40 per hour on and after December 31, 2017). N.Y. Lab. Law § 652(a)-(c). In Massachusetts, under its Minimum Fair Wage Law (the “MMFWL”), the presumptive minimum wage rate is $11.00 per hour. M.G.L.A. 151 § 1.
In New Jersey, the statute of limitation for pursuing a claim of unpaid overtime and/or minimum wage rates is two (2) years. N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.1. Under the NYLL, such claims are subject to a six (6) year statute of limitation, N.Y. Lab. Law §§ 198(3) and 663(3), and such claims are subject to a three (3) year statute of limitation in Massachusetts. M.G.L.A. 151 § 20A.
Maybe most significant, however, is that “the NJWHL does not provide for liquidated damages, injunctive relief, or punitive damages.” Ferreras v. American Airlines, Inc., Civil Action No. 16-2427 (JLL), 2017 WL 1156737 at *4 (D.N.J. Mar. 28, 2017) (string case citations omitted; citing N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25). In contrast, the NYLL provides for “liquidated damages equal to one hundred percent of the total of such [minimum wage and/or overtime] underpayments found to be due”. N.Y. Lab. Law §§ 198(1-a) and 663(1). The MMFWL provides that aggrieved employees who prevail in actions brought thereunder “shall be awarded treble damages, as liquidated damages, for any loss of minimum wage”, M.G.L.A. 151 § 20, and “shall be awarded treble damages, as liquidated damages, for lost overtime compensation”. M.G.L.A. 151 § 1B.
These “liquidated damages” provisions provided for in both the NYLL and MMFWL, but absent in the NJWHL, act as punitive deterrents which disincentivize employers from requiring their employees to work excessive hours. In this author’s opinion, without such punitive measures, failing to pay overtime just becomes the cost of business. If an employer fails to pay overtime or minimum wage under the NJWHL, and assuming an employee is willing to take it to task, the employer simply has to reimburse the employee for what it should have legally paid her or him in the first place. With a liquidated damages provision, however, violating the NJWHL becomes much more than simply the cost of business – it becomes a real deterrent. It protects the workers of New Jersey in a much more humanitarian way.
Contact Your Premier New Jersey Employment Attorneys
If you believe that your employer is unlawfully failing to pay you minimum wage or overtime pay, you may very well have a viable claim under the New Jersey Wage and Hour 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 NJWHL.