Last updated March 27, 2018.
Like all legal claims, claims in New Jersey against your employer are time-barred, or prohibited, beyond a certain amount of time that is set by statute (commonly referred to as the “statute of limitations”). This raises a couple of very important questions:
First, how long is the statute of limitations in New Jersey for employment claims? Or in other words, how much time do you have to sue?
Second, when does the statute of limitations begin running for employment claims? Or in other words, what’s the event or act that opens the time window for a lawsuit?
Time Limits to File a Claim
The answers to these questions depend upon the statute that forms the basis of your lawsuit. The following is a quick summary of the time limitations for the most common employment claims in New Jersey.
New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Statute of Limitations
Generally speaking, the statute of limitations for discrimination or retaliation under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (the “LAD”) is two (2) years from the date of the “adverse employment action” that forms the basis of your lawsuit. For instance, let’s imagine you complained to your employer that you were being discriminated against due to your age, then your employer retaliated against you for this complaint by firing you. Under the LAD, your “adverse employment action” is the date you were terminated, and you have two years from this date to file suit.
NJ Hostile Work Environment Harassment Statute of Limitations
Hostile work environment harassment claims are treated a bit differently under the LAD for statute of limitations purposes. This is because hostile work environment harassment claims involve many ongoing individual instances of sexual or racial harassment that, taken cumulatively, rise to an abusive level. For example, over the course of many months, a female employee may endure daily or weekly catcalls, lewd and offensive gestures and comments, and/or unwanted sexual touchings.
Given this, New Jersey courts have applied the “continuing violation doctrine” to determine when hostile work environment harassment claims are time-barred by the statute of limitations. Very simply put, courts find a “continuing violation” when an employee can show a series of continuous and related acts of harassment. If a “continuing violation” is found, then the employee has two (2) years from the final act of harassment in which to sue. Moreover, the employee may sue for the entirety of the harassment suffered, not just the last discrete instance of harassment.
New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act Statute of Limitations
Whistleblower employees have one (1) year in which to file a retaliation claim under the New Jersey Whistleblower Law, also known as CEPA. The one-year statue of limitations begins to run from the date of the last retaliatory act which forms the basis of the lawsuit. In the majority of cases, this will be the date the whistleblower was terminated.
Family and Medical Leave Act and New Jersey Family Leave Act Claims
Under both the federal FMLA and the state FLA, employees have two (2) years from the employer’s last statutory violation in which to file suit. Generally, this will be the date the employer wrongfully denied the employee leave or retaliated against the employee for taking such leave.
Federal and State Wage and Hour Claims
Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the statute of limitations is two (2) years. This window is extended to three (3) years for exceptional cases where the court determines an employer’s violation was willful. Likewise, the New Jersey Wage Payment Act allows a two (2) year statute of limitations for wage and hour claims. For other claims — such as those seeking unpaid sales commissions — the limitations period is six (6) years.
The statute of limitations is especially important in wage and hour claims, as it may limit the amount of back wages the employee is allowed to recover. Accordingly, employees who believe they have a claim for unpaid minimum wage and/or overtime should consult an attorney immediately, preferably as soon as they discover their employer’s violation.
Breach of Union Contract Claim Against the Employer or Union
Union employees may file an complaint against their employer and union under Section 301 of the National Labor Management Relations Act (the “NLRA”) for breach of a union contract and the union’s breach of the duty of fair representation. Most often, this occurs when the employee believes he or she was terminated by the employer without “just cause” within the meaning of the collective bargaining agreement, and that the union arbitrarily or with bad faith/discriminatory intent failed to pursue the employee’s grievance. The statute of limitations for such a complaint is a mere six (6) months.
Contact an Employment Attorney Before Time Runs Out
If you are concerned you have an actionable employment claim and that the statute of limitations clock is ticking, contact our office today for a free consultation. Our practice areas include racial discrimination and harassment, ethnic discrimination and harassment, sex discrimination, sexual harassment claims, age discrimination and harassment, and more for clients in New Jersey and New York.