New Jersey is the diner capital of the United States, and before the COVID-19 pandemic boasted over 500 diners. Diners provide convenience and comfort food to thousands of customers per day, but unfortunately, diner employees are often the targets of wage theft and other illegal pay practices. Food service is notorious for underpaying its employees, both tipped employees and back of the house workers, yet diners often skate under the radar of government agencies and major restaurant lawsuits.

In 2019, New Jersey made several changes to its wage and hour laws that strengthened protections for underpaid employees. Now, the state enjoys some of the most employee-friendly regulations in the country. Many of these protections apply to food service workers, including restaurant and diner employees. If you are a restaurant or diner employee in New Jersey, it is worth reviewing some facts about the wages that you must be paid under the law.

  • Most employees of New Jersey diners are entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay unless they have substantial managerial duties. Like many other states, New Jersey has steadily increased its minimum wage for the past several years, including the minimum wage for tipped employees. In 2020, the New Jersey minimum wage for most employers was $11. As of January 1,2023, minimum wage in New Jersey is up to $14.13.
  • Overtime is owed at one and a half times the higher of an employee’s regular hourly rate or the legal minimum wage for each hour worked over forty (40) in a single workweek. This applies to many restaurant and diner employees, including employees who paid a salary, so long as they do perform significant administrative or managerial work.
  • Diners can pay a lower minimum hourly wage to tipped employees, but the requirements are strict. Many employers illegally cut those corners while also paying the lower rate. Even if an employer is correctly paying the “tipped” minimum wage, tipped employees are still entitled to overtime.
  • Diners must pay minimum wage and overtime to back of the house employees, such as cooks, dishwashers, and food prep workers, even when they are paid a salary or weekly rate. It does not matter whether a back of the house employee is paid hourly or salary. Unless they are managers or certain administrative employees, back of the house workers must receive overtime.
  • The statute of limitations for unpaid wage lawsuits is six years. Prior to 2019, the limitations period was a mere two years. This is huge! This means that employees are allowed to recover for 6 years of unpaid wages prior the filing of a complaint. This also applies to claims for retaliation.
  • Employees can seek liquidated damages of up to 200% of unpaid wages. What does this mean? The law provides that in addition to paying all unpaid minimum wage and overtime, employers may be responsible to pay two times that total unpaid wage amount to employees, especially if the employee can demonstrate the failure to pay was due to the employer’s bad faith. Bad faith may be found where an employer used deliberately deceptive wage payment practices, where employees repeatedly complained about wage practices, and especially where prior investigations or complaints had been filed against an employer.

At Pelton Graham, we are ready to discuss the changes in the law and how New Jersey food service, restaurant, and diner employees may be able to recover unpaid wages and other damages. You can also explore our site for more information on your minimum wage rights, wage concerns for tipped workers, and overtime protections.

If you work in New Jersey and think you may be owed minimum wage or overtime, or even if you aren’t sure, it’s important to speak to knowledgeable attorneys who can walk you through your rights and potential claims. At Pelton Graham we have extensive experience in helping workers recover unpaid wages. You can reach us by telephone at (212) 385-9700 or online by filling out our contact form for a free consultation.