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The New Jersey Business & Industry Association urged the Senate to reject the wage theft legislation on its agenda Thursday, saying the bill is well-intentioned, but overly punitive and could put employers out of business for inadvertent wage and hour law violations.

The bill, S. 1396, is on the Senate board list for final consideration this afternoon.

“NJBIA shares the belief that the deliberate failure to pay wages should not be tolerated, but we have concerns that language in the bill that is intended to distinguish between negligent and willful and knowingly violations is not consistent throughout,” said Michael Wallace, NJBIA’s director of  Employment and Labor Policy and Federal Affairs. “This inconsistent language could result in advertent violations being treated in an overly punitive manner.”

Wallace said NJBIA also opposes the legislation because it broadens the definition of retaliation under state wage and hour laws to include any adverse action against an employee within 90 days of the employee making a complaint about a wage not being paid.

“Courts have interpreted adverse actions differently,” Wallace pointed out. “If an employer is forced to make a change to the employee’s job responsibilities or take disciplinary action as a result of an employee action within the 90 days of a wage complaint, this could be considered an adverse action under the terms of this legislation.”

In addition, the legislation also includes a provision that a client employer and a labor contractor providing workers to the client company would be subject to joint and several liability and share civil legal responsibility for any violations of the provisions of the state wage and hour laws.

“We feel this provision would be disruptive to the subcontractor business model and subject contracting companies to unknown liability entirely outside of their control,” Wallace said.