Immigrant workers often fall victim to wage theft by unscrupulous employers who threaten to turn over workers to ICE if the workers report wage violations to authorities. Wage theft hurts the taxpayers of New Jersey because employers who refuse to pay minimum and overtime wages are more likely to fail to pay payroll, workers compensation and other taxes, robbing state coffers of millions annually. Even when workers are able to successfully win judgments for unpaid wages from the New Jersey Department of Labor, many employers fail to pay, changing the name of their business or declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying workers. Princeton, New Brunswick, Highland Park, Newark, and Jersey City passed local ordinances refusing to renew the licenses of businesses that have been found guilty of wage theft either by a court or the state Department of Labor for not paying for all hours worked, paying below minimum wage, or not paying overtime.
NJAIJ urges other municipalities and counties to pass similar ordinances to combat abusive wage theft practices and to protect immigrant workers.
According to New Jersey Working Families:
Wage Theft Ordinances deters employers from engaging in wage theft by linking established wage theft violations to the City’s licensing authority. Any business that is found liable for wage theft (either in court or by the NJ Department of Labor) must demonstrate that it has paid its workers what it owes within 90 days of any judgment or appeal, or risk suspension of its business license.
The Wage Theft Ordinance will be enforced by the City Department or Division responsible for a given business’s license to operate in a city, which may include the Department of Health & Human Services or Division of Commerce. For example, a restaurant seeking a food establishment license from the Department of Health & Human Services must certify to that Department that it has no outstanding judgments for wage theft against it.
Businesses must certify whether there have been any judgments or decisions against them for unpaid wages within the 24 months prior to their license applications. If a business has a judgment or decision against it, the business must either certify the dates, location, and nature of the wage theft and its payment of restitution to the employees, or certify that it is appealing the judgment or decision.
Every applicant for a business license or renewal of a license must certify under the penalty of perjury that there are no outstanding judgments for unpaid wages against it. The City expects that the majority of businesses are following the law and paying their employees their rightful wages. Only those businesses who try to evade their responsibilities or who lie on their certification to the City will face suspension under the Ordinance.
Any business that falsely certifies its compliance with the Ordinance may have its license revoked and could be subject to prosecution. Businesses will be certifying their compliance with the Ordinance under the penalty of perjury, and false statements to the government will be dealt with appropriately.
Employees who believe they are not being paid their rightful wages must protect their rights either by filing a claim with the NJ Dept of Labor, Wage & Hour Division, which investigates employers’ payment practices, or filing a lawsuit. The City will not be investigating local businesses.
No license shall be transferred to or from an applicant, licensee or business entity that has been found liable of a violation and not cured by the appropriate judicial or administrative agency.
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