Hochul Makes Wage Theft a Larceny

Employers who commit wage theft in New York will now face larceny charges after Gov.  Hochul signed a bill into law Wednesday that amends the New York Penal Law prosecuting wage theft “as the crime that it is.”  Hochul signed Senate Bill 2832-A and Assembly Bill 154-A into law during a Labor Day parade breakfast reception as part of an employment-related legislation package, saying it will be a step toward ending wage theft in the state.

“Let’s talk about what it is like when you are working hard every day, and you think you are getting a certain sized paycheck, and you look at it and you are like, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t what I thought it would be,'” Hochul said. “But guess what? That is a crime now in the State of New York. You will not get away with that. That will get prosecuted as the crime that it is.”

Under the law, employers would commit wage theft if they fail to pay workers the minimum wage rate, overtime or promised wage if greater than the minimum wage rate and overtime.

Democratic state Sen. Neil Breslin, one of the law’s sponsors, said “Wage theft is one of the more serious forms of worker exploitation,” Breslin said. “Oftentimes it is perpetrated against some of our most vulnerable populations, including undocumented immigrants and low-income workers.” 

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr. announced in February the creation of the Worker Protection Unit “to investigate and prosecute wage theft and other forms of worker harassment and exploitation across Manhattan’s many industries.”

Employers in regulatory-sensitive industries, like hospitality and healthcare, should be mindful of these additional potential consequences for incorrect wage practices.  Although the level of intent required to prove culpability in a criminal matter is significantly higher, and district attorneys are unfamiliar with federal and state labor laws, the threat of a larceny charge will certainly force many employers to be more mindful of how they pay their employees.

Employers should ensure all their wage practices comply with all laws and seek competent counsel to understand what their legal obligations are.