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New Protections of New Jersey Wage and Hour Law and New Jersey Wage Payment Law Apply Prospectively, Supreme Court Rules

New Jersey employment law affords significant wage and hour protections to employees through the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law and the New Jersey Wage Payment Law.  Both laws were significantly strengthened by amendments in 2019, adding additional penalties,6-300x225 recovery of attorneys fees, enhanced damages, and a longer, six-year statute of limitations.  One question left open by the Legislature was whether the statute of limitations would be applied retroactively to cover conduct prior to the amendments, or prospectively to cover only conduct from 2019 onward.  The New Jersey Supreme Court has now unambiguously answered that question.


The New Jersey Wage Payment Law

The New Jersey Wage Payment Law was enacted in 1965 and governs the timing and payment of wages.  It prohibits withholdings of wages unless the law expressly allows or requires.  Wages must be paid at least twice per month, and no later than 10 days after the pay period covered.  The employee must be told in advance what she will be earning, and before any changes to her pay are made.  She must be paid all wages due when she leaves employment on the next regular payday.

The Wage Payment Law allowed an employee to sue for violations.  However, prior to the 2019 amendments, all the employee could recover was her wrongfully withheld wages.  (It also provided criminal and monetary penalties, but employees could not pursue these, only the government.)


The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law                                                                  

The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law was enacted in 1966.  It governs minimum wage and overtime (“time and a half” after 40 hours in a week for most non-exempt employees).  Before the 2019 amendments, the Wage and Hour Law allowed employees to sue for their wrongfully unpaid wages, and to recover their attorneys fees if successful.  However, the Wage and Hour Law only had a two year statute of limitations.


The 2019 Amendments

The New Jersey Legislature amended both laws, effective August 6, 2019, to provide a six-year statute of limitations.  The amendments also added liquidated damages to both laws, adding 200 percent to the unpaid wages, essentially allowing employees’ damages to be tripled.  They also allowed for the recovery of attorneys fees and litigation costs, and added a claim for retaliation to successful employees for the Wage Payment Law, just as they had been allowed under the Wage and Hour Law.


The Maia Case

The vehicle for this decision was the case of Maia v. IEW Construction Group.  In that case, two employees sued their employer under both the New Jersey Wage Payment Law and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law for unpaid wages for pre-shift and post-shift work they were required to perform in April 2022.  The unpaid wages were both before and after the effective date of the amendment.  The employees argued that the extended statute of limitations should apply retroactively to cover the wages which they should have been paid both before the effective date of the amendments, and more than two years before they filed their complaint.

The Supreme Court rejected the employees’ arguments that the amendments should be applied retroactively.  The Court explained that the Legislature did not expressly designate the amendments as retroactive. Likewise, the amendments would impose new damages and limitations periods for acts that took place before they were enacted, and thus employers would have had notice neither of their new liability nor their new potential damages.  Thus, the Court explained, it would be an unconstitutional violation of due process to apply the amendments retroactively.

The Court therefore ruled that the 2019 amendments to the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law and the New Jersey Wage Payment Law would apply only prospectively after August 6, 2019.

The practical effect of this ruling will be limited however, since it is only slightly more than one year until it will be six years after the amendments.  At that point, the limitations period will be fully effective.


The Bottom Line

The amendments to the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law and New Jersey Wage Payment Law are strong incentives to motivate employers to pay their employees what they are due.  They are also powerful tools for employees to seek redress when they are not properly paid.

To summarize, the amendments provide for both unpaid or wrongfully withheld wages or overtime:

  • Liquidated damages of 200 percent in addition to the unpaid wages, or essentially triple damages;
  • An extended limitations period of six years, which will be fully effective on August 6, 2025;
  • Recovery of attorneys fees and litigation costs by successful employees; and
  • Anti-retaliation protections.


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Our New Jersey employment lawyers represent private sector and government employees, and private sector employers, in all aspects of New Jersey employment law, including wage and hour litigation.  Call us at (973) 890-0004 or fill out the contact form on this page.  We can help.


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