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Tuesday, February 1, 2022

NJ Wage Payment Attorney, Essential Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic Deserve Living Wage

Many workers deemed “essential” workers during COVID-19 pandemic deserve a living wage, yet many receive far less than a living wage although they are paid the required minimum wage by law or paid a few dollars higher than the required minimum. In New Jersey, the minimum wages is $13.00 an hour as of January 1, 2022 for most employers. In some other states it is as low as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which federal minimum has not been raised in thirteen years.

Poor working conditions, low pay, and extraordinary long hours, prevalent in the health care industry, long-term residential care facilities, and other frontline jobs, have rung a wake-up call to many US employers in these industries, leading to wage increases in some in order to retain employees. These workers perform needed and skilled tasks that are always essential, but became particularly critical during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The fight for $15 that began in 2012 originally with the fast-food service industry, is a grass roots movement led by workers of color. This grass roots movement affected the public discourse and influenced political and legislative statutory changes related to fair pay and minimum wages for work performed. As of December 31, 2021, this movement has resulted in $150,000,000,000 ($150 billion dollars) in higher pay for twenty-six million workers throughout the US.

The public’s trepidation of themselves or family members catching Covid, not having sufficient support services available, and looming concerns of potential  interruptions of essential services have brought the depth of the financial fears experienced by underpaid essential workers to the forefront. Unfortunately, it took the pandemic to expose to many for the first time, the reality of the distress experienced by essential workers caused by not receiving a living wage, while they do the essential and frequently physically demanding work and  long overtime to keep the country running during the pandemic.

Many US workers, facing vulnerability to a deadly virus via workplace exposure, tired and frustrated with low pay, became invigorated to act to demand higher wages. In all industries where the minimum or low wage is the standard business practice, an increasing number of US employers hoping to attract and to retain their existing workforce responded to mass resignations by offering starting wages higher than their state’s minimum wage, raising it to $15 and above.

Even in states where the official state minimum wage rate was not raised during the pandemic,  many individual businesses in those states responded by raising their workers’ wages to $15.00 to $20.00. This is true in all 50 states from April 2020 to the December 31, 2021, despite previous claims about the corporations’ inability to pay higher wages and remain open for business.

Who are “essential” workers?

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL), the U.S Department of Homeland Security defines essential workers as those who perform services within a wide range of operations and services that are essential to continue the United States’ critical infrastructure operations. “Critical infrastructure” is a sweeping characterization encompassing numerous divisions of industries from food transport, defense, fuel and energy, health systems, to manufacturing and agriculture. Yet many “essential” workers, such as agricultural workers, essential workers whose labor keeps us fed, alive and healthy, do not even share in the base line state minimum wage rate that is required to be paid by most US employers, nor are they entitled to overtime pay rates in many jurisdictions.

Federal Guidelines

According NCSL, “Of the 43 states with essential worker orders or directives, 21 now defer to the federal definitions developed by the US. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). CISA’s guidance and sector-specific list, according to the agency’s website, are intended to support state and local governments in their identification of essential workers. The agency says, ‘promoting the ability of [critical workers] to continue to work during periods of community restriction, access management, social distancing or closure orders is crucial to community resilience and the continuity of essential functions.’ ”

Hopefully for essential workers everywhere in the US, some making as little as $7.25 an hour, H.R.603 - Raise the Wage Act of 2021 will become signed legislation. This bill increases the federal minimum wage for regular employees over a 5-year period, for tipped employees, and for newly hired employees who are less than 20 years old.          

If you quit your job in NJ, you may lose right to prevail in a lawsuit

If you quit your job in NJ, you may lose right to prevail in a lawsuit. If you are thinking of quitting, or you think you will be fired, you should know that you may lose your right to prevail in a lawsuit unless you first take certain legally required measures to preserve your job while you are still employed. If you are thinking of quitting, or think you will be fired, you should contact this office immediately to discuss your options in the safest way for you.

If You Have Been Suspended, Had Your Hours Slashed, or Were Terminated or Threatened with Termination

If you have been suspended, had your hours slashed, or were terminated or threatened with termination for demanding wage and overtime pay for which you are entitled, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in southern, central, western and northern NJ to meet with clients.


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