Worker protection laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New Jersey state minimum wage set fair pay standards for employees in New Jersey. Despite these laws, some employers still violate employees’ rights to be compensated adequately. In fact, just recently a North Jersey business was ordered to pay 289 employees $910,000 in back wages for failing to pay overtime wages. So, what should hourly employees do to protect their right to be paid fairly and properly for their work?
Fair Labor Standards Act
The FLSA guarantees a number of rights to workers in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. More specifically, the FLSA establishes minimum wage, recordkeeping, child labor standards, and overtime pay eligibility.
- Minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. This has been effective since July 24, 2009. Many states, like New Jersey, also have minimum wage laws and in cases where an employee is subject to both state and federal minimum wage laws, the employee is entitled to the higher minimum wage.
- Employers must keep employee time and pay records.
- Child labor. These provisions are designed to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or well-being.
- Covered nonexempt employees must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 per workweek at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay. There is no limit on the number of hours employees 16 years or older may work in any workweek. The FLSA does not require overtime pay for work on weekends, holidays, or regular days of rest, unless overtime is worked on such days. In addition to the FLSA overtime provisions, a number of state laws also define how and when overtime must be paid. Some states measure overtime on a daily, rather than weekly, basis. In these states, workers who put in more than eight hours a day are generally entitled to overtime, even if they work a total of 40 or fewer hours in a week.
Despite state and federal law, it is not uncommon for employers to violate the FLSA. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), in the 2022 Fiscal Year alone, $134,591,521 back wages were awarded to employees affected by overtime violations and $17,941,190 back wages were awarded to employees affected by minimum wage violations. In fact, every year since 2009, the DOL has recovered over $100 million in back wages for employees affected by overtime violations.
Discovering overtime violations can be more difficult to spot than minimum wage violations. Employers, like the aforementioned North Jersey business, can avoid paying their employees overtime in a variety of sneaky ways. One way they can do this is by classifying their workers as exempt employees or independent contractors since neither exempt employees nor independent contractors are entitled to be paid overtime. These employers might also get their employees to perform their duties off the clock or even ask them to work before they are clocked in or after they are clocked out. Another way employers can avoid paying overtime is by not paying employees for required meetings or trainings.
What Can You Do?
If you believe that your employer is violating the FLSA or state minimum wage, there are several strategies to pursue compensation for the work you have performed. The first step you may want to take is to simply discuss the issue with your employer. This will give your employer the opportunity to fix the issue. Sometimes these issues could just be clerical errors or perhaps the employer may not have known they had to pay you overtime.
If the issue still isn’t fixed after speaking with your employer, you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division or your state’s department of labor. In New Jersey, you can file a wage claim with the New Jersey Division of Wage and Hour Compliance, which will investigate your claims and order your employer to pay they money you are owed at a Wage Collection Hearing.
Although you are not required to work with an attorney when you file a wage complaint, it may still be helpful to speak with one. Be mindful that the statute of limitations on filing a wage complaint is six (6) years and there is also a monetary limit on complaints heard at a Wage Collection proceeding. The maximum dollar amount on complaints is $50,000. If your complaint exceeds this amount, you must waive any amount of your complaint in excess of $50,000. However, if you do not want to give up the excess, you can choose to hire an attorney and file a civil lawsuit against your employer.
Guest Writer Brooke Rotheram is a third-year law student at Rutgers Law School, where she is an Associate Editor for the Women’s Rights Law Reporter.