Trenton-The Senate Labor Committee approved today legislation sponsored by Senator Fred H. Madden Jr. that would increase penalties for violations of the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law.
“We need to make it clear that wage theft is theft, plain and simple,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Theft is a serious crime and must be punished with severe penalties. Employers who steal from their workers by not paying them for the hours worked, failing to pay overtime or benefits they are due need to be held to account.”
The bill, S-392, increases the amount of the fines and upgrades the level of offense after the second offense from a disorderly person offense to a crime in the fourth degree. Specifically, the bill provides that an employer who violates any provision of the law is, upon conviction of a first or second violation, guilty of a disorderly person offense. If the employer is convicted of a third or subsequent offense they would be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree. Under the bill, penalties would be as follows: a) for a first violation a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $1,000; b) for a second violation a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $2,000; and c) for a third or subsequent violation, it would constitute a crime of the fourth degree, punishable by a fine of not less than $2,000 and not more than $10,000, or by imprisonment for up to 18 months or by both the fine and imprisonment. Current law punishes third and subsequent violations like a second violation.
According to a 2013 New Labor household survey of low-wage workers in New Brunswick, one in six workers reported that they had experienced wage theft in the past two years. Eighty-five percent of those people were unable to recover the lost wages. Further, a 2011 Seton Hall University School of Law report from their Immigrant’s Right/International Human Rights Clinic found that more than half of the respondents were paid less than promised at least once in 2010, almost all were not paid overtime when they worked more than 40 hours a week, and almost half were not paid at all at least once. About 14 percent of these workers said that lost wages totaled greater than $1,000.
The bill was approved by the Senate Labor Committee with a vote of 5-0. Now the bill goes to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.