New York State’s wage theft law now makes violations a form of larceny.
The governor in September 2023 signed the bill into law, amending the state’s penal law to include wages in the definition of “property.” It also gives investigators more power to pursue harsher penalties against violating employers.
New York State has had a wage theft law (the Wage Theft Prevention Act) on the books since 2017. The latest amendments went into effect immediately.
In the state of New York, larceny is a felony if the value of the stolen property (which now includes wages) is over $1,000.
Minimum Wage Management. Simplified.
New York State Wage Theft Law
The stated purpose of the updated New York wage theft law is to allow prosecutors to seek stronger penalties against employers who commit wage theft.
Notably, the law allows investigators to aggregate all wage theft into one larceny count, even if the offenses occurred in multiple counties. That will likely lead to more severe penalties because it increases the chances violating employers will exceed the felony amount level.
Meanwhile, the legislation also added a new paragraph to the New York State law regarding wage theft:
“A person obtains property by wage theft when he or she hires a person to perform services and the person performs such services and the person does not pay wages, at the minimum wage rate and overtime, or promised wage, if greater than the minimum wage rate and overtime, to said person for work performed.”
Lawmakers noted that wage theft in New York State totals nearly $1 billion a year, citing the Cornell University’s Worker Institute.
Other parts of New York’s existing wage theft law include:
- Fines up to $20,000
- Antiretaliation measures
- Notices of wage rates and other information
- Recordkeeping requirements
The law provides for liquidated damages on up to 100 percent of the unpaid wages. Also, once the New York Department of Labor issues an order to comply, it includes 100 percent liquidated damages, as well as other civil penalties and interest.
Lastly, officials in New York State report that a wage theft collaboration has resulted in 10 criminal cases and accounted for more than $2.5 million in stolen wages affecting more than 400 construction workers, since December 2017.
Employment Law Compliance Resources
Types of Wage Theft
How can employers commit wage theft? There are a number of ways.
One example of an overtime violation came in California, where a restaurant owner denied a cook and four other frontline employees overtime wages. The employer did not maintain accurate records nor combine hours worked across multiple locations. An investigation led to the employees receiving nearly $42,500 in damages, as well as $4,230 in fines for the employer.
Minimum Wage Violations
A poultry farm in New York State was hit with a class-action lawsuit because the employer allegedly misclassified employees and did not pay the required minimum wage rate. Defendants sought injunctive relief, an award of unpaid wages with pre- and post-judgment interest, liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees and costs for the defendant’s violation of the FLSA and the New York labor Law.
Illegal Deduction Violations
An Oregon restaurant owner withheld employees’ tips for nearly two years, keeping the majority of earned cash and credit card tips. The owner paid workers an hourly “tip wage” that was lower than the amount of tips the employees earned. More than $280,000 in back wages was recovered for 36 employees.
A construction company in California in 2021 did not track employee work before and after their scheduled shifts. By not paying required overtime rates, the employer was forced to pay more than $72,000 in back wages, as well as being assessed an $8,460 fine.
Rest Break Violations
An employer was forced to repay nearly $23,400 in back wages for deducting meal breaks from employees’ pay. It was part of a larger investigation that also found violations for overtime, as well as deducting lodging costs.
Pay Transparency Laws: What Employers Need to Know
Large employers don’t set out to commit wage theft.
Still, with the amendment to the New York State wage theft law, it would be prudent to ensure wage and hour procedures are correct and adhering to the applicable laws.
As a reminder, New York minimum wage has three levels of minimum wage. Between now and the end of 2023, these are the rates:
- New York City – $15
- Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties – $15
- The remainder of New York State – $14.20
Click the link above for more information of future rates in the state.
To wrap up, New York State also has exempt salary thresholds above the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act). They are:
- New York City – $58,500 annually ($1,125 per week)
- Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester counties – $58,500 annually ($1,125 per week)
- Remainder of state – $55,341 annually ($1,064.25 per week)