En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Courier
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Paterson Signs Wage Theft Prevention Act

Labor rights organizations and workers were celebrating, after the Wage Theft Prevention Act (WTPA) was signed into law by Governor David A. Paterson on Monday, December 13.

“At a time when so many New Yorkers are living paycheck to paycheck, it is vital that we protect the right to receive their hard-earned pay and afford them every protection against wage theft,” Paterson said. “I am proud to sign this legislation, which will combat misconduct by unscrupulous employers who fail to pay statutorily-mandated minimum wages and overtime.”

The new law would increase penalties and tighten enforcement of the New York laws protecting workers from nonpayment and underpayment of wages. The National Employment Law Project estimates that more than $1 billion is stolen annually from NYC workers by employers. Advocates project that the WTPA will bring in approximately $50 million in increased savings and revenues to help the state government save valuable programs currently threatened by the fiscal crisis.

“By signing the Wage Theft Prevention Act, Governor Paterson makes a commitment that New York State will finally stand up for workers, crack down on lawless employers, and use the power of the state to ensure fair treatment for vulnerable, low-wage immigrant workers,” said Deborah Axt, deputy director of Make the Road New York, a non-profit immigrant organization in Jackson Heights.

Under the law, workers would get automatic damages of up to $10,000 when an employer discharges or retaliates against them. The WTPA also increases the amount of a judgment by 15 percent if an employer refuses to pay for 90 days after being found to owe money for stolen wages.

The law also addresses the failure by employers to pay statutorily-mandated minimum wages and overtime by requiring annual notifications of wages, expanding notifications, enhancing available remedies for wage law violations and strengthening whistleblower protections. It also raises criminal penalties for failure to pay minimum wage to up to a year in prison and $5,000 fine.

“This legislation underscores that the failure to pay wages that are earned is nothing more or less than theft and finally provides civil and criminal penalties that recognize this reality,” said Christopher D. Lamb, executive director for MFY Legal Services, Inc.