America takes pride in its history of being a beacon for the labor class. Throughout its history, America has attracted waves of immigrants believing they could start a better and more prosperous life working in a thriving economy. Many of America’s greatest success stories began as a result of people getting an opportunity to work in a job providing a fair wage. Fortunately for those who work in New Jersey, the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (NJWHL) exists to “protect employees from unfair wages and excessive hours.” In re Raymour & Flanigan Furniture, 405 N.J. Super. 367, 376 (App. Div. 2009). The NJWHL expressly states that, “[t]he employment of an employee in any occupation in this State at an oppressive and unreasonable wage is hereby declared to be contrary to public policy and any contract, agreement or understanding for or in relation to such employment shall be void.” N.J.S.A., 34:11-56a3. “Oppressive and unreasonable wage” is defined as “a wage which is both less than the fair and reasonably value of the service rendered and less than sufficient to meet the minimum cost of living necessary for health.” N.J.A.C. 12:56-2.1. A prime example of the NJWHL wage protections is found in our State’s overtime law which requires, “Every employer shall pay to each of his employees’ wages … for 40 hours of working time in any week and 1 1/2 times such employee’s regular hourly wage for each hour of working time in excess of 40 hours in any week …” N.J.S.A., 34:11-56a4.
Unfortunately, due to insufficient budgeting, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“NJDOL”) is currently experiencing a shortage of enforcement staff capable of charging those who violate the State’s NJWHL. Consequently, companies too often believe they can get away with violating New Jersey’s labor laws regarding wages, classification, and benefits. In turn, the NJDOL’s over-extension comes at a cost to those legitimate companies who are unwilling to take advantage of the situation by paying workers less or providing them less benefits. As New Jersey Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean recently stated, “[i]t’s hard for honest firms that follow the rule to compete for work when they’re paying the full wages, taxes, and insurance that their shady competitors often dodge.” However, to address this untenable situation, New Jersey State Senators Oroho [R], Kean [R], Troy Singleton [D] and Joe Pennacchio [R] are calling for the swift passage of Bill S-3954, establishing the creation of the Office of Labor Law Enforcement (“OLLE”) within the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Hoping to foster fairer economic competition among businesses in the labor sector and “level the playing field,” the proposed legislation seeks to grant the OLLE referee-like authority to “oversee, evaluate, and coordinate enforcement activities of the department regarding violations of the provisions of labor laws, including provisions regarding wages and other terms and conditions of employment…the misclassification of employees, made by employers, employees, or other persons to wrongfully obtain or wrongfully deny or delay the full payment of wages and benefits, or pay less than the premiums, contributions, or taxes which are required by the provisions of State labor laws.” To ensure such enforcement, “[t]he bill directs the Attorney General, upon a request by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, to assign one or more deputy attorneys general to represent the department in proceedings regarding State labor law violations…”