A U.S. District Judge in Newark has ruled that the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law does support private causes of action in situations where employers improperly withhold overtime pay. The law has been used in previous cases to justify awards for unpaid overtime. It’s a quirk of the way law works that those awards could come before the case deciding that the right to those awards actually exists. Timing issues aside, it is a win for workers who are routinely denied proper overtime pay by unscrupulous employers.
The underlying dispute that gave rise to this case is a classic example of how employers try to dodge their responsibilities. The plaintiffs are a group of underwriters who worked for a mortgage company. The company classified them as exempt from overtime pay. Companies do this for obvious reasons. When you can coerce workers to put in longer weeks (in fear for their jobs) while not actually paying them for the additional time, you can increase profits dramatically. Of course, the workers did not meet the requirements for exempt workers and were thus owed overtime for any hours above 40 per week.
Earlier this year, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the NJWHL was designed to “protect employees from unfair wages and excessive hours.” Despite that language, the mortgage company attempted to argue that the statute only covered minimum wage violations and not overtime claims. If that argument had held, it would have become easier for employers to avoid their obligation to pay overtime to non-exempt New Jersey workers.
Source: New Jersey Law Journal, “Private OT Claims Cleared Under NJ Wage and Hour Law,” by Charles Toutant, 26 May 2015