What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in New Jersey?

Employees can collect unpaid wages and penalties for wage violations.

Has your employer failed to pay you minimum wage or overtime or failed to give you meal breaks? If so, you may be able to recover unpaid wages from your employer, as well as a monetary penalty. Below, we explain common wage violations in New Jersey, how to calculate your unpaid wages, and how to pursue your wage claim.

Unpaid Minimum Wage

Employees are entitled to the highest applicable minimum wage, whether it's the federal, state, or local rate. New Jersey's minimum wage is higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. If your city or county has an even higher minimum wage, you are entitled to that amount. Employees who regularly receive tips may be paid a lower minimum wage, as long as they earn enough in tips to make the minimum wage for each hour worked. (To learn more, see our article on how tipped employees are paid in New Jersey.)

If you didn’t receive the minimum wage in New Jersey, you can collect unpaid wages from your employer. To calculate the amount due, take the difference between your hourly rate and the minimum wage. Then, multiply that amount by the number of hours worked. For example, if your employer paid you $1 less than the minimum wage for 100 hours of work, you would be entitled to $100.

Unpaid Overtime

Consistent with federal law, New Jersey employers must pay employees time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours in a work week. (Exempt employees are not entitled to overtime pay. To learn more, see our article on which employees are exempt from overtime.)

If you didn’t receive the overtime rate, you can collect 50% of your regular rate per hour. For example, suppose you worked 45 hours during the week but only received your regular hourly rate of $10 per hour (for a total of $450). The last five of your hours should have been paid at the overtime rate of $15 per hour. So you should receive the difference of $5 per hour ($15 - $10) for five hours, for a total of $25 extra per week.

Meals and Rest Breaks

Neither New Jersey nor federal law requires employers to provide meal or rest breaks to employees. However, if an employer chooses to provide breaks, federal law requires that all breaks of 20 minutes or less be paid. And, if you’re required to do any work during a break—even sitting at your desk to wait for a phone call or delivery—you must be paid for that time.

To calculate your unpaid wages, add up:

  • any breaks of more than 20 minutes that you were required to work through, and
  • any breaks of 20 minutes or less, whether you worked through them or not.

This time counts are hours worked, for which you must be paid. If the additional time results in overtime, you must be compensated at your overtime rate.

Other Common Wage Violations in New Jersey

New Jersey employers must also follow several other wage and hour requirements under federal and state law. Here are some other common wage violations by employers:

  • failing to pay you for work performed before or after you clock in
  • failure to pay earned bonuses or commissions
  • failure to pay vacation, sick, or holiday time, as promised by the employer
  • failure to provide a final paycheck on time, and
  • unauthorized deductions from wages, such as for the cost of uniforms or equipment, for cash shortages, or for property damage.

Additional Compensation for Wage Violations in New Jersey

In New Jersey, employees with minimum wage or overtime claims can collect an additional sum called “liquidated damages.” Liquidated damages are intended to compensate you for the delay in payment of your wages. You can collect 100% of your unpaid wages as liquidated damages. For example, if you are owed $1,000 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime, you can collect another $1,000, for a total of $2,000.

If you win your case, you may also be able to collect reasonable attorneys’ fees and legal costs.

Filing a Claim for Unpaid Wages in New Jersey

The quickest and easiest way to recover unpaid wages is typically to file a wage claim with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DLWD). The DLWD handles various wage violations, including minimum wage violations, overtime violations, unauthorized deductions, unpaid bonuses, unpaid commissions, and more. The DLWD will investigate your claim, make a decision, and help you recover any wages that are owed.

To start your claim, you must complete a Wage Claim and mail, email, or fax it to the DLWD. For minimum wage and overtime violations, you must file your wage claim within two years after your wages became due. For all other violations, you have six years to file your claim. However, it’s best to file your claim as soon as possible to ensure that you have access to witnesses and relevant evidence.

Alternatively, you may file a lawsuit in court to collect your unpaid wages. Filing in court is a much more complicated process though, so you should consider hiring an employment lawyer. This option would make sense if you are claiming a large amount in unpaid wages. You can also hire a lawyer to represent you before the DLWD, although it is not a requirement. If you’re not sure which is the best route for you, consult with a lawyer first.

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