The days of wage theft in New Jersey are coming to an end, thanks in large part to S1790, a bill passed by the Legislature in June 2019 and signed by the governor on August 6. “Wage theft” refers to the wrongful failure by an employer to pay wages or other compensation owed to an employee. New Jersey law makes it a disorderly persons offense—the equivalent of a misdemeanor—for an employer to fail to pay wages when they are due. An employer may also be civilly liable to the employee for unpaid wages and additional damages The new bill amends the state’s wage laws and the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. New provisions in the wage laws increase the amount of damages that employees can recover, and significantly increase the statute of limitations to file suit.
Any failure by an employer to pay employees what they are owed can be described as “wage theft.” The term therefore encompasses a wide range of conduct by employers. Some wage theft is deliberate and intended to deprive employees of compensation. In other cases, it is more a result of carelessness or negligence. The end result is the same for the employees who are not getting paid as much as they should. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported that, in 2012, regulatory agencies and private lawyers recovered nearly $1 billion in wrongfully withheld wages. This amount almost certainly represents a fraction of the total amount of wage theft that occurs in the U.S. In contrast to this number, the EPI reported that the total amount of property lost to the crime of robbery in 2012 was about $341 million.
S1790 became effective immediately after the governor signed it into law. Employees in New Jersey could previously assert causes of action for wage theft going back two years. The lookback period for wage theft claims is now six years. This applies to claims for unpaid minimum wage and overtime compensation, and also for retaliation and discrimination against employees who report wage theft. If you feel you are the victim of wage theft, you should discuss the matter with a New Jersey employment attorney at your earliest convenience.