Articles Posted in Wage Payment Law

To ensure all New Jersey employees are fairly and timely compensated for their work, Acting New Jersey Governor Sheila Oliver signed S1790 into law this week which amends the existing New Jersey Wage Payment Law (NJWPL) to provide significantly more protections for employees who have been victims of wage theft. The new law makes it a disorderly persons offense for employers to fail to pay wages when due as required by law, or fail to pay compensation or benefits within 30 days when due.

An employer found to have violated the NJWPL as amended will now be required to pay the victimized employee his or her wages owed in addition to liquidated damages equal to 200% of the wages owed as well as reasonable costs of the action to the employee. The employer will also be fined $500 plus a penalty equal to 20% of any wages owed for the first offense, followed by $1,000 plus a penalty equal to 20% of any wages owed for each subsequent offense. Supporters of the new legislation hope that its stricter penalties for violations will hold employers accountable for unpaid wages more than the existing wage and hour legislation does. “Above all else, this law is about workers’ rights. Employers in New Jersey should be held to a high standard to treat their employees with the decency and legality they deserve. No one should be withheld one penny of the wages they are legally entitled to,” said Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, who sponsored the bill before it was signed into effect.

S1790 also prohibits employers’ retaliatory conduct by increasing the penalties against employers who retaliate against employees for filing wage complaints. Any such employer who does so commits a disorderly persons offense and upon conviction, is required to pay a fine between $100 to $1000. The employer is also liable to the employee for all wages lost as a result of the retaliation as well as damages equal to 200% of the wages lost as a result of the retaliation, and reasonable costs of the action to the employee. If the employee was retaliatorily discharged, the employer is required to offer reinstatement, unless the reinstatement is prohibited by law.

A worker in New Jersey who is fired for complaining to their employer about its New Jersey’s wage law violations may be able to sue to recover damages under our state’s whistleblowing laws. Recently, the New Jersey Appellate Division clarified that a plaintiff does not need to allege both a violation of a statute and a matter of public policy to state a cause of action under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). Costa v. Total Rehab & Fitness, 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1286 (App. Div., June 5, 2019). CEPA defines protected “whistle-blowing activity” to occur when an employee “discloses, or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or to a public body an activity, policy or practice of the employer, or another employer, with whom there is a business relationship, that the employee reasonably believes is… in violation of a law, or rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law.” N.J.S.A. 34:19-3.

In reversing in part the Camden County Superior Court’s earlier decision dismissing allegations of CEPA violations in plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim, the Appellate Division reasoned that the complaint should have been dismissed without prejudice to give the plaintiff an opportunity to amend her complaint as the circumstances of her termination may have amounted to a violation of CEPA.

Catherine Costa worked as an occupational therapist for Total Rehab & Fitness between April and September 2013. During her employment, she agreed to be paid in accordance with a scaled compensation system based on the number of patients that visited her during the week. Despite the agreed upon compensation system in place, Costa’s employer frequently paid her less than required by her contractual rate which is a violation of the New Jersey Wage Payment Law (NJWPL). After a series of email exchanges in which Costa informed her employer about the discrepancies in her paycheck only to be met with frustration toward her demands, Costa was terminated. Id. at 4-6. The Superior Court dismissed Costa’s complaint because of her failure to specify that her employer violated the NJWPL. However, it also went one step further and concluded that Costa’s complaints about shortages in her paycheck involve “a purely personal and private dispute, insufficient to meet the elements of a CEPA claim.” Id.