In early January, Governor Phil Murphy and Democratic leaders of the Legislature struck a deal that would raise the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour in New Jersey. On Monday, February 4, Governor Murphy followed through on his campaign promise, signing the legislation that will increase the state’s minimum wage over the next few years. This deal places New Jersey among the most progressive states in the nation, joining California, New York, and Massachusetts, in phasing into a $15 hourly wage.
While the wage increases are seen to be beneficial for employees, numerous small to medium-sized businesses are apprehensive about the reforms and impact on company revenues. The good news is that the impending changes provide an opportunity for New Jersey employers to audit their pay practices and ensure that they are in compliance with all wage and hour laws. Below summarizes the potential impact of the new ordinance and provides some tips for adjusting to the wage increases:
I. Increases will continue through 2024
The new minimum wage ordinance will not occur immediately. Rather, the deal sets forth a gradual increase until it reaches $15 dollars per hour in January 1, 2024. The current minimum wage in New Jersey is $8.85 per hour. The following chart details the scheduled increases in the state’s minimum wage.
- On July 1, 2019 – the minimum wage will increase to $10.00 per hour.
- On January 1, 2020 – the minimum wage will increase to $11.00 per hour.
- On January 1, 2021 – the minimum wage will increase to $12.00 per hour.
The minimum wage would then increase on January 1 by $1 each year from 2022 to 2024 until topping out at $15 per hour. The new minimum wage will apply to most workers in the state, although there are a few so called carve-outs. The deal calls for most wage earners to receive a minimum of $15 an hour by 2024, but includes a slower schedule for workers at seasonal businesses, small businesses with five or fewer employees, and farmworkers. Farm workers, for example, will see their minimum wage climb to just $12.50 an hour over five years. Seasonal workers and small businesses with five people or fewer would see their minimum wages reach $15 an hour by 2026.
II. The Business Impact
Although raising the minimum wage is generally seen as beneficial for employees, there can be certain costs for businesses operating in the state. Specifically, small businesses in New Jersey could feel the brunt of the minimum wage increases. Opponents believe that the announcement reflects another potential hit to small businesses who are already absorbing cumulative costs in other forms of new mandates by the Murphy administration. Nearly 70 percent of respondents to the latest NJBIA business-outlook survey said their businesses would be impacted in some way if the state were to enact legislation mandating a $15 minimum wage. To offset such a requirement, they said some businesses — though not a majority of them — would reduce staff and working hours, and enact price increases or turn to automation.
Overall, it is estimated that over 1 million New Jersey workers will be impacted by the minimum wage changes, according to the governor and lawmakers. As a result, employers and businesses should weigh the impact of a higher minimum wage on profitability, hiring, and overall finances.
III. Staying Compliant
Now more than ever, states, counties, and cities, who do not see movement at the federal level, are implementing specific minimum wage laws in their jurisdictions. As a result, employers must ensure that they comply with federal, state, and local minimum wage laws. While the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) isn’t changing next year, the state of New Jersey and many other states will have new minimum wage rates throughout 2019.
These new minimum wage ordinances can increase compliance risks for employers, requiring new workplace postings and changes to existing workplace policies. Therefore, employers need to be cognizant of the legal liabilities they could face if company wage and hour policies are not in compliance prior to the increase. Compliance is essential; employers in violation of payroll regulations can face penalties, including steep fines and civil litigation. When dealing with questions about minimum wage and overtime statutes, it is recommended that all employers consult with experienced counsel.
IV. Preparing for the Changes: Adjusting Pay Structures
In states that have significantly increased their minimum wages, the financial impacts often occur immediately and can be burdensome for small business owners. Employers should find ways to manage the effect on increase of pay structures. For example, if the minimum wage increases and jobs that currently pay $10 an hour are not entry-level positions – but a next level up – there could be a compression issues. Thus, employers should adjust their payment structures and account for them to be shifted up. The best way for making this wage shift can depend on the specific company and its compensation structure. Employers do not have to adjust all levels, but it is important to consider adjusting lower-paid jobs from a certain hourly rate on down.
V. Employees Earning More than the Minimum Wage
When the minimum wage increases, some employers wonder if they should also provide a raise to employees already earning equal to or more than the new rate. For example, if the minimum wage increases from $9 per hour to $10 per hour, should an employee already earning $10 per hour also get a raise? While the employer is under no obligation to provide a raise, some employees may be expecting one. In this scenario, the employer should consider the potential impact on labor costs, employee morale, internal equity (how employees are paid when compared with other employees within your company based on skills and experience), and the typical merit increase schedule.
As a result of Governor Murphy’s new deal, New Jersey’s minimum wage will continue to increase, starting July 1, 2019. With the patchwork of federal, state, and local minimum wage laws becoming more complicated, employers and organizations will need to pay more attention to the these issues and payment structures. Paying small business employees fairly begins with gaining a good understanding of the minimum wage laws. In doing so, employers need to remain compliant and cognizant to changes at the federal, state, and municipal level. Advanced legal planning will help employers – both public and private sector – to comply with the new minimum wage thresholds.
Enlisting the help of outside legal counsel can assure compliance with the complex patchwork of different minimum wage laws. Mandelbaum Barrett PC is a full-service law firm focusing on providing exceptional legal counsel to its clients. Our labor and employment attorneys are uniquely qualified to assist you and your business in achieving full compliance with New Jersey labor laws. Please feel free to contact us if there are any issues that we can assist you with.
Mandelbaum Barrett PC provides legal alerts to inform readers regarding trending legal issues and developments in the law. This communication does not create, offer, or reduce to writing the existence of an attorney-client relationship. This communication is not legal advice and may not apply to the specific facts of any particular matter.
 New Jersey Becomes 4th State to Increase Minimum Wage to $15, CBS News (February 5, 2019), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-jersey-gov-phil-murphy-minimum-wage-increase-today-2019-02-04/.
 Nick Corasaniti, In New Jersey, the Minimum Wage is Set to Rise to $15 an Hour, new york times (Jan. 17, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/17/nyregion/nj-minimum-wage.html.
 Mike Catalini, New Jersey Governor, Lawmakers Make $15 Minimum Wage Deal, nbc philadelphia (Jan. 18, 2019), https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/New-Jersey-Governor-Lawmakers-Minimum-Wage-Deal-504542452.html.
 Murphy, Dems Reach Minimum Wage Deal, nj herald (Jan. 18, 2019), https://www.njherald.com/20190118/murphy-dems-reach-minimum-wage-deal.
 NJBIA’s 60th Annual Business Outlook Survey, New Jersey Business & Industry Association, https://www.njbia.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/NJBIA-2019-Business-Outlook-Survey-Handout-V5.pdf.
 David Levinsky, Murphy, Legislative Leaders Reach Deal on $15 Minimum Wage, (Jan. 17, 2019) https://www.burlingtoncountytimes.com/news/20190117/murphy-legislative-leaders-reach-deal-on-15-minimum-wage.