There are many reasons why New York State employers should treat their workers equitably; many of those reasons directly enhance an employer’s bottom line as happy workers are more productive. There is a new reason however to ensure that employers pay their employees the wages promised – naked self interest.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed legislation that makes failure to pay wages a criminal offense. The new law broadens New York’s definition of larceny to include “wage theft.”
Senate Bill 2832A states:
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.
The definition of “property” has also been expanded to include “compensation for labor or services.”
Penalties for violation of the new wage theft law range from small fines to incarceration, based upon the severity of the offense. The law also provides that multiple instances of wage theft may also be combined into a single larceny count.
The law takes effect immediately.
The Wage Theft Task Force
The governor also mentioned Manhattan’s new Wage Theft Task Force. Started in February, the Wage Theft Task Force includes NYSDOL, the New York State Attorney General's Office, the New York State Insurance Fund (NYSIF), the Offices of District Attorneys across the State, and the New York City Department of Investigation. The Task Force initially leveraged criminal laws to achieve justice for construction workers in cases involving wage theft, fraud, and safety hazards, but has recently expanded its scope into other industries and counties in New York State. The Task Force works closely with labor unions and community-based organizations as part of efforts to support workers and recover owed wages.
“As we work to help New Yorkers recover from the economic hardship of the pandemic, we must ensure we are protecting workers and guarantee they receive the pay they are owed,” Governor Hochul said.
“The Wage Theft Task Force has already secured major victories for workers, and I thank the Attorney General and District Attorneys for their partnership with the Department of Labor to crack down on bad actors and deliver justice to workers. I am proud that we are doubling down on our efforts in order to help more workers and make it clear that in New York, wage theft will never be tolerated.”
Manhattan Adds Worker Protection Unit
In addition, the new law comes on the heels of the Manhattan District Attorney’s February 2023 debut of a ‘Worker Protection Unit’ to investigate wage theft allegations and prosecute alleged offenders.
Prosecutors across the state may now use the new law to pursue criminal penalties against employers that withhold wages. But it is not known if employers who inadvertently fail to comply with New York’s complex wage and hour laws will be able to rely on the larceny statute’s “intent to deprive” requirement as a defense.
With the criminalization of wage theft, New York employers should make sure that they are following the state’s wage and hour laws. This includes paying employees properly for all hours worked and maintaining comprehensive and accurate payroll records.
The Worker Protection Management System allows New Yorkers to report claims online in multiple languages and get updates about the status of their claim. The $10 million project, set to be complete in 2023, will also provide the Department with real time data, enhancing its ability to analyze and identify violation trends.
The governor says this builds on the ongoing efforts to improve transparency and increase accountability in State government.
Work with Us
LOVE LAW FIRM counsels employers about how to comply with the various state laws concerning wages, workplace conditions and accommodations, benefits, non-discrimination and harassment, and more. If you’re an employer and you need help navigating the compliance maze, be sure to reach out for a free consultation about how we can help you.
If you liked this article, please check out these as well!
Francine E. Love is the Founder & Managing Attorney at LOVE LAW FIRM PLLC which dedicates its practice to serving entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses. The opinions expressed are those of the author. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.