On Thursday, June 10, the Senate Labor Committee also considered Senate Bill 3580, which mandates that an assistant prosecutor be assigned in each New Jersey county to criminally prosecute wage and hour law violations and provides funding for said assignments. Against the backdrop of widespread legal confusion regarding those laws in the civil context, increasing criminal prosecution will only cause more uncertainty and fear among honest businesspeople and stifle capital investment in our State.

NJCJI’s President, Anthony Anastasio, offered testimony in opposition to the bill. Anthony noted that there are numerous examples of civil courts and regulatory agencies disagreeing about various nuanced and disputed points of wage and hour law, including those involving overtime exemptions and worker classification. These issues often present daunting compliance challenges for businesses since several reasonable analyses may apply to a given situation. Anthony emphasized that employers face liability for disorderly persons offenses, punishable by up to 6 months in jail, for violating these confusing requirements.

Anthony then stressed that our Legislature recently created a new crime called a “pattern of wage nonpayment” as part of comprehensive wage and hour legislation commonly known as the “wage theft law”. Essentially, if a businessperson or business entity has two prior convictions for violations of the State’s wage and hour laws (including worker classification and overtime determinations) and they violate any of those laws for a third time, then they commit a crime punishable by a mandatory state prison sentence.       

Anthony concluded by arguing that incentivizing criminal prosecution against this backdrop flies in the face of fundamental fairness and due process. NJCJI therefore requested that S3580 be held so that changes to the wage theft law can be made to ensure a more fair, predictable backdrop for potential criminal liability. Despite NJCJI’s opposition, S3580 was released from the Committee on party lines. Notably, however, several senators on both sides of the aisle expressed concerns about the lack of clarity in the law highlighted by NJCJI. NJCJI will continue to oppose this bill as it moves through the legislative process.

NJCJI’s written comments to the Committee can be found here. Anthony’s testimony before the Committee can be found here at minute mark 33:15 (2:22:50 left in audio). If you have any questions about this bill or NJCJI’s efforts to amend the wage theft law to ensure consistent application, then please contact Anthony via e-mail at aanastasio@civiljusticenj.org.