Increases Criminal Penalties for Employers Who Knowingly Commit Wage Theft Violations
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced as part of his fiscal year 2020 Executive Budget a new proposal to crack down on wage theft. The Governor's proposal would increase criminal penalties for employers who knowingly or intentionally commit wage theft violations to more closely align with other forms of theft.
"New York will always stand with workers and we have zero tolerance for unscrupulous employers who try to steal the hard-earned wages of their employees," Governor Cuomo said. "The State has already recovered millions of dollars for cheated workers, and this proposal will help bolster our efforts to hold accountable any employer who attempts to improperly withhold wages."
Currently, only employers who commit repeated wage theft can be prosecuted with a felony, and such prosecutions are extremely limited. This legislation will amend the Labor Law to provide criminal penalties for employers who knowingly steal wages, with criminal penalties ranging from a Class B misdemeanor for wage theft less than $1,000 to a Class B Felony for wage theft greater than $50,000.
This proposal will enhance the New York State Department of Labor's ability to make referrals for criminal prosecution as District Attorneys and the Attorney General will now have clear, unequivocal crimes to prosecute. The Department of Labor will continue existing Labor Law enforcement operations, but with the enhanced criminal penalties District Attorneys will be more likely to prosecute wage theft as a crime, and may begin to bring cases of their own, thereby expanding the resources available to combat wage theft throughout the state. Further, enhanced criminal penalties may operate as a deterrent for employers and reduce future instances of wage theft.
New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said, "The New York State Department of Labor is committed to the protection of workers and thanks to Governor Cuomo's leadership, we'll soon be able to take unprecedented action to ensure that workers who have wages stolen get what they're owed. This legislation helps build New York's reputation as a national leader in the fight against wage theft."
New York has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of money returned to workers who were cheated by their employers. In 2018, the New York State Department of Labor collected nearly $35 million and returned that money to approximately 35,000 workers victimized by wage theft and public work violations. Since 2011, DOL has recovered more than $280 million in stolen wages and returned it to 250,000 workers victimized by wage theft and public work violations.