Implications of wage theft legislation examined in NYC

One of the nation's strongest wage protection laws, the New York State Wage Theft Prevention Act, went into effect April 9.

It quadruples penalties, gives greater protection to whistle-blowers, strengthens law enforcement and, some say, increases transparency in New York's labor law. Others say the law opens new areas of uncertainty and creates an onerous recordkeeping burden for employers.

The ILR School's Labor and Employment Law Program brought together plaintiff and management lawyers and enforcement officials to examine the new legislation in the ILR Conference Center in New York March 29.

Participants agreed it was necessary to address the money -- close to $1 billion -- stolen from low-income workers each year. Amy Carroll, a drafter of the new legislation and legal director of Make the Road New York, outlined the act's aims.

Protecting workers from retaliation for reporting violations is of great importance, she said. Litigated damages and penalties also needed to be raised to discourage employers from violating the law because it was less expensive than paying the fines, Carroll said.

Stephen A. Fuchs '88, a shareholder of law firm Littler Mendelson, event co-sponsor, presented the employer's perspective.

Fuchs reviewed new administrative requirements, including seven-day notice to employees about salary changes, more detailed wage statements, longer record retention and higher penalties. He pointed to areas of uncertainty surrounding acceptable forms of notice and definitions of an exempt employee.

From the New York Department of Labor, Director of Strategic Enforcement Lorelei Salas clarified department regulations and authorities. Responsibility will extend beyond the employer and include threats as well as actions. Penalties will be increased and employees will be able to bring civil action.

Participants raised many questions about enforcement, including notice to employers and employees about new requirements. Salas said comments and questions made during the session would be reviewed by her office.

Esta R. Bigler '70, director of ILR's Labor and Employment Law Program, said her program is committed to presenting "diverse perspectives on cutting-edge legislation" to bring full understanding of workplace law to legal professionals and the public.

Marguerite Spencer is a senior communications specialist for the ILR School.

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Joe Schwartz