TRENTON, N.J. — An ongoing strategic enforcement initiative targeting New Jersey’s retail laundromats has uncovered a variety of wage and hour violations among a small sampling of businesses, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) has announced.
The Department’s Wage and Hour Division recently completed its first strategic enforcement initiative involving the retail laundromat industry, including a comprehensive analysis of industry practices and areas identified for corrective action.
Wage and Hour investigators visited 20 retail laundromat locations owned by nine employers in New Jersey (none were identified in the announcement). Only one of the locations was free of violations, and investigators determined that more than $56,000 in wages are owed to the primarily low-wage employees, and many workers are not receiving the earned sick leave they lawfully accrued.
Strategic enforcement focuses on industries with a history of non-compliance with existing laws and those whose employees are less likely to file complaints with the Department. The approach augments existing complaint-driven enforcement actions.
Investigators interviewed dozens of employees and employers and reviewed thousands of documents. Based on their findings, the Wage and Hour Division cited laundromats for failing to pay employees the state minimum wage; failing to pay employees time and a half their regular pay rate for hours worked over 40 hours in a week; illegally misclassifying employees as independent contractors; and failing to comply with the state’s earned sick leave law.
In addition to back wages, $143,000 in penalties and fees were assessed to employers.
“New Jersey’s wage and hour laws are not a suggestion, and employers who violate the law will be required to pay workers the wages they are owed and will be assessed damages and penalties,” says Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “We are committed to ensuring New Jersey is a great state to live, work, and build businesses. The Department is making sure small and growing businesses have the information and guidance they need to comply with state laws.”
In the first round of this initiative, the Wage and Hour Division found that 80% of the retail laundromats investigated were not in compliance with the Earned Sick Leave Law requirements. This impacted more than 130 employees and resulted in employers being assessed significant penalties and fees.
An additional part of compliance with earned sick leave laws requires employers to keep and maintain records for five years documenting employee hours worked, and earned sick leave that has been accrued/advanced, used, paid out, and carried over. All employers must visibly display the required “earned sick leave” poster at their workplace and give each employee written notice of their right to earned sick leave.
Because retail laundromats are frequently bought and sold as investments, NJDOL is concerned that people purchasing laundromats may not fully understand their legal obligations, as an employer, under state wage and hour laws.
The Department engages with industry leaders and business organizations to raise awareness about New Jersey’s wage, hour and earned sick leave laws and support employers to implement practices that bring them into compliance.
The Laundry Workers Center is an advocacy group that communicates directly with laundry workers in New Jersey and understands the most critical issues facing them.
“I’ve worked in laundromats for 16 years. Laundromats are prone to wage theft, and it comes in many forms,” says Gaudencia Ramirez, a member of the Laundry Workers Center. “I’m excited and applaud the New Jersey Department of Labor for enforcing the law and investigating the laundromat industry and bad employers. This gives workers more security to file complaints and demand better conditions, which would make a difference in our lives.”
Retail laundromats predominantly employ immigrant workers who might not be fully aware of their labor rights or are more fearful of retaliation, NJDOL says. Workers can find information about their rights, including employer retaliation protections, and how to file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division at myworkrights.nj.gov. Assistance is available in multiple languages.
The strategic enforcement initiative focused on New Jersey retail laundromats is ongoing, NJDOL says, and it will continue to target industry non-compliance.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].