The Fight Against Wage Theft
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
When New Jersey's minimum wage went up six cents on January 1, this signaled good news for workers across the state. The increase from $8.25 an hour to the current $8.38 was the first for New Jerseyans since January 2015.
However, shining a spotlight on how much workers are paid also brought into focus a related issue that remains a serious problem in New Jersey and nationally: wage theft.
Wage theft is the illegal practice of not paying workers for all of their work. It can include a variety of infractions such as violating minimum wage laws, failing to pay overtime or withholding payment for work performed. Wage theft may also involve violations of tax laws through misclassification of employees as independent contractors. When a worker is called an independent contractor, the employer does not pay their share of federal or state taxes or and does not procure workers compensation insurance.
Wage theft by employers often impacts the workers who can least afford it: minimum wage earners. It also disproportionately affects women and people of color and is largely unreported. In New Jersey, a 2013 New Labor household survey of low-wage workers in New Brunswick found that one in six workers reported they had been victims of wage theft in the previous two years.
While many states have strong labor laws, wage theft persists because these laws often are hard to enforce. Unscrupulous employers find ways to avoid the consequences of their actions, such as closing their doors, moving locations, filing for bankruptcy or opening a business under another name. The same 2013 New Labor survey indicated that 85 percent of the individuals in New Brunswick who reported wage theft were unable to recover the lost wages.
The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law was enacted to ensure payment of a minimum wage to employees. An employee entitled to the benefits of the Wage and Hour Law must be paid for all hours the employee is required to be at his or her place of work or on duty.
If you believe you have been a victim of wage theft, you can take direct action and file a claim with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which investigates employers’ payment practices. There are also advocacy groups and organizations that help workers fight wage theft. A list of resources can be found at WageTheft.org.
Alternatively, you can choose to work with an attorney who specializes in wage and hour disputes and take legal action to recover the unpaid wages. When filing a lawsuit, you may decide to include other employees who have been similarly affected.
The good news for New Jersey workers is that the fight against wage theft is ongoing at the legislative level. In June of 2016 the State Assembly Judiciary Committee approved legislation aimed at further deterring unscrupulous employers. The bill (A-862) would assist aggrieved workers by expanding the remedies available to them and the enforcement provisions available to the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development.
Assemblywoman this bill would provide triple damages to wage theft victims and provide additional avenues for employees to challenge wage theft and recover wages. It would allow wage theft victims to file a citizen complaint with a municipal court, as well as a civil claim in Superior Court. The bill also would extend the current statute of limitations for an employee to file a claim with the Department of Labor for wages owed up to six years prior, and enhance retaliation protections and penalties. An employer found in violation of the law would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense and required to pay additional fines along with triple damages.
If you are not being paid your rightful wages and want to discuss your options for recovering what is owed to you, do not hesitate to contact me at 973-509-8500 x213 or email LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.