Stealing or wrongfully withholding wages from employees is wrong and illegal, yet remains a persistent form of worker exploitation. Wage theft in New York accounts for nearly $1 billion in lost wages each year. Oftentimes it is perpetrated against some of the most vulnerable populations, such as low wage or undocumented workers. However, a new package of legislation was recently passed to help support and protect workers in New York, including a law that aims to deter wage theft.
Larceny charges, harsher penalties
The Wage Theft Accountability Act amends the New York criminal larceny statutes to include wage theft. The new law adds a statutory description of larceny by wage theft, which specifies that wages are property. That means employers can now face criminal larceny charges for nonpayment or underpayment of wages, as well as the civil penalties and damages that were already in place.
The value of the stolen wages will determine the classification of larceny charges as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In other words, financial penalties and possible imprisonment sentences will increase as the value of the wages involved increases.
Further, even if the wage theft occurred in multiple counties, the new statute allows for the aggregation of nonpayments or underpayments under one larceny charge, making the charges easier to prosecute and more costly for employers.
What this means for employers, employees
This legislation should dissuade employers from failing to pay minimum wage, overtime or promised wages for work performed. Employers should review their existing policies and practices to ensure they meet state and local regulations.
Employees should recognize just how serious – and unfortunately, pervasive – wage theft is in New York State. Should any concerns or questions arise regarding nonpayment, employees should point out the oversight or mistake to their employer immediately.
However, when employers do not appropriately address wage theft claims, civil and criminal penalties can follow.
Both employees and employers should know their legal options regarding wage disputes and conflicts. Because the laws can be confusing and change frequently, reach out to an attorney experienced in these claims for guidance.