New York Enacts New Criminal Penalties for Wage Theft

Despite a range of civil penalties in New York, employers continue to engage in widespread wage theft of employee’s earned wages amounting to, according to one estimate by Cornell University’s Worker Institute, nearly $1 billion dollars in lost wages per year. New York’s Wage Theft Accountability Act (S2832-A/A154-A), signed by Governor Kathy Hochul on September 6, 2023, aims to change that by providing a powerful new tool to prosecutors seeking to challenge employer wage theft.

The new law amends New York’s criminal larceny statute, adding a subsection that provides:

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. In a prosecution for wage theft, for the purposes of venue, it is permissible to aggregate all nonpayments or underpayments to one person from one person, into one larceny count, even if the nonpayments or underpayments occurred in multiple counties. It is also permissible to aggregate nonpayments or underpayments from a workforce into one larceny count even if such nonpayments or underpayments occurred in multiple counties.

NY CLS Penal § 155.05(2)(f).

The new law does not disturb existing criminal penalties for wage theft found in the New York Labor Law, but provides potent new benefits for prosecutors. As an example, the law permitting prosecutors to aggregate all nonpayments or underpayments of wages occurring in multiple counties into a single larceny count in a single venue streamlines prosecutions and can result in harsher penalties for employers, making it much more likely these cases will be brought criminally and provide meaningful deterrence when they are.

The passage of the Wage Theft Accountability Act, in tandem with efforts by prosecutors such as the creation of a Worker Protection unit by New York County’s District Attorney’s Office in February 2023, shows that New York is serious about responding to the wage theft epidemic. If you believe you may be owed wages by an employer, speak to an experienced wage and hour attorney as soon as possible to discuss all your options.

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About Shawn R. Clark

Shawn Clark's practice is focused on employment litigation. Shawn is an Associate in the firm's New York office.

Tags: faruqilaw, faruqilawblog, employmentlaw, workerrights, employeerights, faruqi&faruqi, employeerightscounsel, wagetheft Shawn R. Clark Shawn R. Clark
Associate at Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP

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