New Jersey Court Clarifies Application Of 2019 Wage And Hour Law Amendments

Littler Mendelson


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On August 6, 2019, New Jersey's wage and hour laws were amended to include liquidated damages on some claims, a new retaliation cause of action, and expansion of the statute of limitations...
United States Employment and HR
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On August 6, 2019, New Jersey's wage and hour laws were amended to include liquidated damages on some claims, a new retaliation cause of action, and expansion of the statute of limitations from two to six years (the "2019 amendments"). Since then, litigants in New Jersey have struggled with the effect those amendments have had on their lawsuits. One of the main points of confusion centered around whether the 2019 amendments applied retroactively to violations prior to August 6, 2019, or whether the changes applied prospectively only. A significant conflict developed between federal and state courts on the retroactive application of the 2019 amendments. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently clarified this issue in Maia v. IEW Construction Group.

In Maia, the plaintiffs represented a purported class of workers seeking to recover lost wages for pre-shift and post-shift work performed. One of the plaintiffs began working for the defendant in April 2019, and as of May 2019, was not being paid for pre- and post-shift work. The other plaintiff began working for the company in April 2020 and was never paid for pre- and post-shift work. Both plaintiffs were laid off in November 2021 and filed the lawsuit, alleging violations of the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (WHL) and Wage Payment Law (WPL).

The trial court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims for damages that accrued prior to August 6, 2019, and ruled the 2019 amendments to the WHL and WPL, which extended the statute of limitations on WHL claims from two to six years, applied only prospectively, not retroactively. The Appellate Division reversed that decision, holding plaintiffs could recover unpaid wages and damages for the full six-year look-back period, even for claims based on conduct prior to the August 2019 effective date of the new, extended statute of limitations. Defendant appealed the Appellate Division's ruling.

The issue on appeal concerned whether the 2019 amendments were to be applied only to conduct that occurred after the effective date of the amendments, or if employers could be held liable retroactively for conduct that occurred before the effective date.

With its unanimous decision in Maia, the New Jersey Supreme Court clarified this issue, ruling that the 2019 amendments cannot be applied retroactively. The court's opinion provides clear guidance that the provisions in the amendments — including the imposition of treble liquidated damages, the expansion of the statute of limitations period, and the addition of new retaliation protections — are available only to plaintiffs for conduct that occurred after August 6, 2019. In reaching its decision, the court applied the two-prong test established by longstanding New Jersey case law to determine whether retroactive application of the 2019 amendments was warranted.

The first prong of the two-part test requires analysis of whether the legislature intended for the law to be retroactive, by considering:

  1. when the legislature explicitly or implicitly states an intent for the law to be retroactive;
  2. when the amendment is ameliorative or curative;
  3. when the parties' expectations warrant retroactive application.

After reviewing the legislative text, the court found nothing to support any of the three required elements. The court did not reach the second prong1 of the test because the first prong was not satisfied.

An employer win, for now

The Maia decision makes clear that any claims prior to August 6, 2019 are not viable based on the 2019 amendments, and that employers do not face liability for those claims.

While this is a win for employers, the victory is limited. Due to the effective date of the amendments — August 6, 2019 — the full extent of the statute of limitations will be available to plaintiffs on August 6, 2025.


1. The second prong requires the court to evaluate "whether retroactive application of that statute will result in either an unconstitutional interference with vested rights or a manifest injustice."

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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