Five Employment Law Facts You Might Not Know
The state and federal laws that come into play if you work in New Jersey
on June 5, 2017
Updated on May 26, 2022
Almost everyone works, and for those who do, it’s in their interest to know their employee rights and the rules about getting paid. New Jerseyans are subject to state wage and hour laws, as well as several federal laws. Here’s a refresher on some big ones you should know.
Exempt vs. Non-Exempt
Exempt status refers to an employer’s requirement under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to pay an employee for hours in excess of 40 per week. You are not exempt from receiving overtime pay just because your employer has declared it so, or because you receive a salary rather than hourly pay.
The main factor in determining exempt status is the regular duties of your job. Most managerial, administrative, professional, computer and outside sales positions are exempt. Most blue collar, police and firefighters are not. Supervisory roles can fall either way, depending on whether supervising and managing others is one of the primary job duties. Inserting “Supervisor” or “Manager” into a job title will not, in itself, make an otherwise non-exempt employee an exempt one. In some cases, whether you are exempt or non-exempt may not be all that clear. If you feel you are being wronged by a misclassification of your job, you may wish to consult with an employment attorney.
If you are non-exempt, your employer must pay you at least federal minimum wage (in New Jersey, that’s currently $8.44 per hour) for every hour worked up to 40, and 1 ½ times your regular hourly rate for all hours worked beyond 40 in any work week. This is true even for undocumented workers.
About That Overtime…
It’s actually pretty straightforward, but some misconceptions exist. For example, if you are an eligible employee and work unauthorized overtime hours without prior approval, your employer still must pay you for that extra time at the overtime rate. You may get fired for doing so, but the law says you must still be paid.
You can’t trade your overtime pay for compensatory time (time off in lieu of overtime pay)—at least not in the private sector. Similarly, it’s not permitted to stretch one 30-hour week and one 50-hour week into an 80-hour pay period with no overtime. In this scenario, 10 hours from the 50-hour week qualifies as overtime.
Your boss can legally require you to work overtime, as long as they pay you appropriately. Keep in mind that work on holidays and weekends does not qualify as overtime unless it exceeds 40 hours for the week. Individual employers can have their own policies that provide more generous options, but these are not required by law.
Gimme a Break (or not)!
Contrary to popular belief, there is no state law in New Jersey that requires employers to allow you two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute lunch break each workday. Individual employers can develop their own policies, and many do, but it is not required by law. The main thing federal law requires is that any break shorter than 20 minutes must be paid, even if your boss has a policy of having you clock out. A lunch break can be unpaid as long as it’s more than 30 minutes.
Unused Vacation or Sick Time
If you quit or are fired from your job, does your employer have to pay you for any unused PTO? No. It’s possible that your employer will negotiate the terms of your termination to pay you for unused accrued PTO, but there is no federal or state requirement.
Reducing Pay or Firing For No Reason
The majority of workers are at-will employees. That is, at your employer’s will. You do not have any right or entitlement to your job. This means your employer can decide for arbitrary or even ridiculous reasons to fire you, and it’s legal.
You cannot be fired, however, based on discrimination. In New Jersey, that would be anything due to race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex, pregnancy, familial status, marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information, liability for military service, mental or physical disability, perceived disability, AIDS or HIV status, or in retaliation for whistleblowing.
Your boss can also decide to reduce your pay. New Jersey law does require that your employer give you one full pay period of notice of any such reduction. It cannot be retroactive, but barring any contractual or collective bargaining agreement, an employer can unilaterally reduce either salaried or hourly pay.
That said, if you feel you have been wronged by your employer and you are unable to work it out, it may be worth filing a claim with the New Jersey Department of Labor. You may also wish to seek legal advice from a reputable employment attorney.