Governor Kathy Hochul last month signed a package of legislation to support, protect, and expand benefits for New York workers. The Governor signed legislation to make wage theft a form of larceny and allow prosecutors to seek stronger criminal penalties against employers who steal wages from workers.
Labor experts say wage theft is prevalent in the restaurant industry because its workforce is heavily made up of undocumented immigrants, who are less willing to speak up because of their status.
More than 60% of restaurant workers living in New York City are immigrants, according to a 2020 study by the New York state comptroller’s office. Of the 317,800 workers in the industry, 44% were Hispanic and 20% were Asian, the study found.
“This legislation will help to ensure that all New Yorkers receive the benefits and protections that allow them to work with dignity,” Governor Hochul said. “My administration is committed to making our state the most worker-friendly state in the nation, and I thank the bill sponsors for their partnership in our mission to establish the strongest and most robust protections right here in New York.”
NY Attorney General Letitia James said, “Everyone deserves a safe workplace where they are treated with dignity and respect. The legislation being enacted today will help protect workers across the state, particularly immigrants and other vulnerable New Yorkers who are often the likeliest victims of employer abuses like wage theft and discrimination. From now on, prosecutors will have the tools they need to stop perpetrators of wage theft who steal billions of dollars from New Yorkers every year. I want to thank Governor Hochul for enacting these important measures, Assembly member Cruz, Senator Breslin, and all the other elected officials for their leadership in sponsoring this legislation, and our partners in organized labor for tirelessly championing these issues.”
The wage theft legislation change allows prosecutors to seek stronger penalties against employers who steal wages from workers.
State Senator Neil Breslin said, “Wage theft is one of the more serious forms of worker exploitation. Oftentimes it is perpetrated against some of our most vulnerable populations including undocumented immigrants and low-income workers. Adding wage theft to the types of activities included in the crime of larceny is a critical step to ensuring that workers receive what they are entitled to. I applaud Governor Hochul for signing this important measure into law.”
“This law will arm prosecutors with a new powerful tool to go after greedy employers who steal wages, allowing them to pursue larceny charges and aggregate cases,” added Assembly member Catalina Cruz.
Approximately $3.2 billion in wages is stolen from over 2 million New Yorkers every year. While wage theft disproportionately impacts low wage working-class New Yorkers, its repercussions are felt by all of us— from directly impacted workers, to law abiding business who must now face unfair competition. Through this new law, we are sending a resounding message: wage theft will not be tolerated in our state. Together, we stand unwavering in our commitment to justice and fairness for every worker.”
New York is taking an expansive approach to protect employees and their wages. Failure to properly navigate the State’s complex wage and hour laws now carries potentially harsher outcomes than the already existing criminal and civil penalties. While criminal prosecutions for these offenses will likely be rare and limited to the most egregious violators, all employers are well advised to pay close and careful attention to compliance with their wage payment obligations, and to consult with wage-and-hour counsel if they have any concerns about the administration of their payroll.