Can I Sue My Employer For Being Forced to Work Off the Clock?
In New Jersey, employers cannot require employees to work after hours without proper compensation. When you do work for your employer, they must pay you. In most cases, you must be paid for working overtime as well. The New Jersey Wage Payment Law protects the rights of employees to receive their wages in full and on time for work performed.
The state legislature amended that law in 2019 to include harsh penalties for employers who violate it and extended the time allowed for a wage theft claim. If you were forced to work off the clock, you can bring a working off the clock lawsuit against your employer.
What Is Wage Theft?
Sometimes it can be hard to determine when an employer is acting illegally as opposed to unethically. You may not even realize that you’ve been a victim of wage theft or other unfair employment practices. If your employer has done any of the following, you may be eligible for a working off the clock lawsuit or wage claim:
- Forcing employees to work after clocking out,
- Classifying employees wrongly as independent contractors,
- Prohibiting employees from recording hours worked,
- Paying less than the required minimum wage,
- Asking employees to arrive early or stay late without paying for the time, and
- Not paying for legally required breaks.
Both federal and state laws protect employees regarding wages and hours worked.
Federal Wage Laws
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides legal protections to non-exempt employees. It sets the minimum wage, establishes 40 hours as a standard workweek, and addresses overtime pay. Employers must pay non-exempt employees at 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in one week. The FLSA considers work time to be any time that an employer requires their employees at their place of work or on duty. Rest breaks and on-call shifts also count as hours worked.
New Jersey Employment Laws
The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development handles New Jersey employment rules, which are based on the FLSA. New Jersey employees may proceed by filing private lawsuits or wage theft claims with the department.
New Jersey employers must pay employees at least twice per month on pre-designated days.
Employers must pay their employees all wages earned. There are only some very specific exceptions for withholdings that employees authorize (such as retirement plans or group insurance).
Reporting for Work
When an employer requires employees to report for work duty, they must pay the employees for at least one hour of wages. There is an exception if an employer has made available the minimum number of work hours agreed upon prior to the date at issue.
The law considers on-call time as hours worked if the employee is not really free to use the time for their own benefit. If the employer does not require that employees remain on their worksite, and the employees can effectively use their time as they wish, that time is not usually counted as hours worked.
Statute of Limitations
Under the 2019 amendments, employees now have up to six years to begin a wage claim. Before 2019, employees had only two years.
Large groups of employees of the same employer who are in similar situations can now join together in one wage claim action.
When employees make a wage theft claim to the Department of Labor, they will open an investigation. They may go into the place of employment and question employees. They may issue subpoenas for evidence or records and collect witness testimony. If the DOL finds that employers violated the laws, they may be forced to repay employees under the department’s supervision.
Employees can now seek not only unpaid wages in a wage claim, but also up to 200% of those unpaid wages for liquidated damages. Employers must demonstrate that the unpaid wages were an honest error on their part to avoid these additional damages. Employees can also have their employers pay court costs and attorney fees related to their wage theft claims. There are administrative penalties as well that increase with every repeated violation. The penalties also provide for criminal sanctions and possible imprisonment.
Employment laws prohibit employers from retaliating or discriminating against employees who complain of wage theft. If they do so within 90 days of the employee’s complaint, there is a presumption that the employer acted knowingly and in retaliation. Employers can rebut this presumption with a clear reason for their actions. Employers who retaliate will be required to pay steep fines for each week that they violate the law. If an employer terminates an employee in retaliation, they must offer the employee their job back.
Contact O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble for Help with Your Employment Issues
If you have been a victim of wage theft or other unfair treatment from your employer, please contact O'Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble. Our experienced attorneys can help you understand your options. We can explain the wage laws at the state and federal levels. If necessary we will aggressively represent your interests and get you the financial compensation you deserve.
We know the importance of being paid fairly and on time for hours worked. We have a record of success in handling New Jersey employment law issues. Our experienced attorneys have won millions of dollars for our clients. Regardless of the type of employment issue you are facing, we can help. Please contact us today to discuss your case with one of our experts.