In a unanimous decision, on May 15, 2024, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the state’s amendments (Chapter 212) to the Wage Payment Law (WPL) and the Wage and Hour Law (WHL) apply prospectively, and therefore plaintiffs cannot rely on the amendments to recover for any conduct that took place before the amendment’s effective date on August 6, 2019.

In 2019, New Jersey amended the WPL and the WHL statutes, by providing additional remedies, including liquidated damages and attorney fees, adding a retaliation claim, and extending the statute of limitations, from two to six years.  Chapter 212 states that the “act shall take effect immediately.” These amendments are generally aimed at prohibiting “wage theft.”

In Maia v. IEW Construction Group, the two named Plaintiffs were hired in May 2019 and April 2020 and both were subsequently laid off in November 2021.  Plaintiffs claimed that they were required to perform pre and post shift work like dropping off and picking up equipment at various locations, and they were not compensated for completing those duties.  In April 2022 they filed a proposed class action alleging violations of the WPL and WHL. 

In addition to unpaid wages, Plaintiffs sought to recover certain damages only provided for under Chapter 212.  The employer filed a motion to dismiss the portion of the Plaintiffs’ complaint seeking damages for conduct that occurred prior to Chapter 212’s August 2019 effective date.

The Court explained that the amendments are not “merely procedural; rather they affect the duties and liabilities involved.”  Given the express statutory language and consideration of the significant substantive rights added, the Court held that Chapter 212 must be applied prospectively, rather than retroactively.  Thus, “any claims for new damages or remedies added by Chapter 212 can be brought only as to conduct that took place on or after August 6, 2019.”

The Court’s unanimous decision is a welcome “win” for employers in employee-friendly New Jersey, as it narrows the window for potential liability under the state’s amended wage statutes.  But given Chapter 212’s significant expansion of potential employer liability going forward and its expansion of the statute of limitations by four years—increasing from just two years to six years, prudent businesses may wish to use this decision as a reminder to review their pay practices to ensure compliance with the law.

Ballard Spahr’s Labor & Employment Group routinely advises businesses on wage hour compliance and defends individual plaintiff, class actions and government investigations involving wage and hour issues.