New York Law

New York Bans Smoking on Hospital and Residential Health Care Facility Grounds (and Slightly Beyond)

September 10, 2013

Beginning on October 29, 2013, an amendment to New York State’s smoking law prohibits smoking anywhere on the grounds of a general hospital or residential health care facility.  The amendment also prohibits smoking in areas within 15 feet of any building entrance or exit, and within 15 feet of any entrance to or exit from the grounds of a general hospital or residential health care facility.  Although there is a narrow exception for patients of residential health care facilities and their visitors or guests, there is no exception for employees of general hospitals or residential health care facilities.  Therefore, general hospitals and residential health care facilities should take immediate steps to notify their employees of the new smoking restrictions and ensure that their employees comply with those restrictions effective October 29, 2013.

The amendment, signed into law by Governor Cuomo on July 31, 2013, modifies New York Public Health Law Section 1399-o, Subdivision 2, which governs smoking in outdoor areas.  As a result of the amendment, general hospitals and residential health care facilities must prohibit their employees from smoking on their grounds and within 15 feet of all entrances to or exits from their grounds.  However, depending on how the law is eventually interpreted, smoking might be permitted in employees' private vehicles parked on the grounds of general hospitals and residential health care facilities due to a “private automobile” exception in a pre-existing, unmodified provision of the smoking law.  The Department of Health has not yet issued guidance on this issue, or on the new law generally.

Prior to the amendment, the only outdoor areas subject to the law were certain outdoor areas of schools and railroad stations.  The smoking law’s restrictions on smoking in indoor areas (including indoor areas of general hospitals and residential health care facilities) are contained in a separate section and are not modified by the amendment.

As noted above, the law contains an exception for patients of residential health care facilities and their visitors or guests.  This narrow exception permits these individuals to smoke in a designated smoking area that is at least 30 feet away from any building structure (other than a non-residential structure wholly contained in the designated smoking area).  This exception does not apply to patients of general hospitals and their visitors or guests.

New York Court of Appeals Resolves Questions About State's Tip-Sharing Statute

July 24, 2013

The New York Court of Appeals, in Barenboim v. Starbucks Corp., recently clarified the types of employees who may participate in tip-pooling arrangements and the extent to which employers may exclude otherwise tip-eligible employees from participating in a tip pool under the New York Labor Law.

Background

Under Starbucks’ tip policy, baristas and shift supervisors share tips collected each week.  Two separate lawsuits were filed in federal court against Starbucks, challenging the policy as it applied to certain categories of employees.  In one case, baristas, who take and deliver orders, stock product, and clean tables, alleged that shift managers could not lawfully participate in the tip pool because their supervisory duties rendered them ineligible for tips.  In the other case, a group of assistant managers argued that because they perform some customer service-related duties and lack “full” managerial authority, Starbucks improperly excluded them from the tip pool.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of Starbucks in both cases, and the plaintiffs in both cases appealed.

Noting that the cases raised novel questions of state law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit certified two questions to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court:

  1. What factors determine whether an employee is an “agent” of his employer for purposes of N.Y. Labor Law Section 196-d and, thus, ineligible to receive distributions from an employer-mandated tip pool?
  2. Does New York Labor Law permit an employer to exclude an otherwise eligible tip-earning employee under Section 196-d from receiving distributions from an employer-mandated tip pool?

The Court's Analysis of the Issues

Citing the New York State Department of Labor’s January 2011 Hospitality Industry Wage Order, the Court held that employees are tip-eligible even if they have managerial responsibility as long as they provide personal service to customers as a principal part of their jobs, rather than just on an occasional or incidental basis.  However, an employee who has “meaningful authority” or control over subordinates is ineligible to participate in a tip pool.

The Court explained that “meaningful authority might include the ability to discipline subordinates, assist in performance evaluations or participate in the process of hiring or terminating employees, as well as having input in the creation of employee work schedules, thereby directly influencing the number and timing of hours worked by staff as well as their compensation.”  The Court left it to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to apply those principles to the specific facts of the baristas’ case.

With respect to the second issue, the Court concluded that Section 196-d of the New York Labor Law does not create an affirmative right for all tip-eligible employees to participate in tip-sharing arrangements.  Although the Court stated that “there may be an outer limit to an employer’s ability to excise certain classifications of employees from a tip pool,” the Court found no evidence to suggest that Starbucks’ policy, as applied to assistant managers, reached that limit.

Impact on Employers

The Court’s decision provides some clarity regarding employees’ eligibility to participate in tip pools.  However, because the Court did not apply the “meaningful authority” standard to the facts of the baristas’ case, the analysis remains somewhat unclear.  Additionally, the Court did not identify which exclusions of tip-eligible employees might be considered unlawful.  Accordingly, employers should consult with counsel before implementing tip-sharing arrangements.

New York City Council Passes Paid Sick Leave Law Despite Mayor's Veto

July 15, 2013

By Christopher T. Kurtz

The New York City Council passed the Earned Sick Time Act on June 27, 2013, overriding Mayor Bloomberg's veto.  Under the Act, private sector employers with 20 or more employees within New York City will be required to offer at least 40 hours of paid sick leave per year to each employee beginning on April 1, 2014.  Private sector employers with less than 20 employees within New York City will be required to offer at least 40 hours of unpaid sick leave per year to each employee beginning on April 1, 2014.  Beginning on October 1, 2015, private sector employers with 15 or more employees within New York City will be required to offer at least 40 hours of paid sick leave per year to each employee, and private sector employers with less than 15 employees within New York City will continue to be required to offer at least 40 hours of unpaid sick leave per year to each employee.  These implementation dates could be postponed if economic indicators based on a financial index maintained by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York do not meet certain conditions.  The Act does not cover independent contractors, work study students, public sector employees, and certain types of hourly professional employees.

The Act provides that an eligible employee will earn at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.  However, employers are not required to permit employees to use accrued sick leave until 120 calendar days after the commencement of employment.  Part-time employees are also covered by the Act, and will earn sick leave at the same rate.  Employers may provide employees with a faster accrual of sick leave than what is required by the Act, and may permit employees to use sick leave within their first 120 calendar days of employment.

Under the Act, accrued sick leave may be used for absences due to:  (1) the employee's own health condition; (2) the employee's need to care for a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, or the child or parent of a spouse or domestic partner; or (3) the closure of the employee's place of business due to a public health emergency or the employee's need to care for a child whose school or child care provider has been closed due to a public health emergency.  An employer may require documentation that sick leave was used for one of these purposes only if the absence is for more than three consecutive work days.  The Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for their use of sick leave or for filing a complaint alleging a violation of the Act.

The number of employees that an employer has is determined by counting all compensated workers during a given week, including full-time, part-time, and per diem employees.  If the number of employees fluctuates, the size of the employer may be determined for the current calendar year based upon the average number of employees who worked for compensation per week during the preceding calendar year.  In chain businesses, the total number of employees in the group of establishments must be counted.

Employers may require reasonable notice from an employee who intends to use sick leave.  If the sick leave is foreseeable, the employer may require up to seven days' notice.  If the sick leave is not foreseeable, an employer may only require notice as soon as practicable.

If an employee is transferred from one location to another location within New York City, but continues to be employed by the same employer, the employee is entitled to keep his or her accrued sick leave.  However, an employer is not required to provide financial or other reimbursement to an employee upon termination, resignation, retirement, or other separation, whether voluntary or involuntary, for accrued unused sick leave.

The Act does not apply to any employee covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement, as long as the provisions of the Act are expressly waived in the collective bargaining agreement and the agreement provides for a comparable benefit to covered employees in the form of paid days off.  For employees in the construction or grocery industry who are covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement, there is no requirement that the agreement provide for a comparable benefit to covered employees in order for such employees to be exempt from the provisions of the Act -- it is sufficient that the collective bargaining agreement expressly waive the provisions of the Act, regardless of whether a comparable benefit is provided.

NYSDOL Publishes Draft Rules Regarding Wage Deductions Under Labor Law Section 193

May 15, 2013

By Andrew D. Bobrek

The New York State Department of Labor (“NYSDOL”) quietly published draft rules on its website regarding employee wage deductions under Section 193 of the New York Labor Law.  The rules will be open for public comment until July 6, 2013.

The draft rules cover a number of deduction-related issues.  For example, the rules specify what is required for employers to obtain sufficient “authorization” from employees for otherwise permissible wage deductions.  Among other things, employees must be provided with written notice of “all terms and conditions” of the deduction, the benefit(s) of the deduction, and the details of the manner in which the deduction will be made.

The rules also illustrate what types of deductions may be allowed under Section 193’s “catch-all” provision, permitting “similar payments for the benefit of the employee.”  New York employers will recall that, in recent years, NYSDOL has narrowly interpreted this provision to exclude many common types of deductions favored by employers and employees alike.  The draft rules suggest that NYSDOL will be closely scrutinizing wage deductions for such “similar payments” and that this provision will still be narrowly interpreted by state regulators.

Notably, the rules also include an enumerated list of illegal wage deductions, including deductions for “employee purchases of . . . attire required for work,” “unauthorized expenses,” and “political action committee” contributions.  Several of these prohibitions are consistent with recent NYSDOL interpretation of Section 193, but the blanket ban on political action committee contributions would contradict recent opinion letters indicating that such deductions would be lawful if permitted by federal election law.

Finally, the draft rules specify detailed procedures and requirements that employers must follow in order to lawfully deduct for wage overpayments and for wage or salary advances now permitted under Section 193.  An employer’s failure to follow these provisions will create a presumption that the deduction in question was illegal.

To reiterate, these are only draft rules which NYSDOL has proposed and are not yet in effect.  We will be reporting further during the rule-making process and public comment period.  We encourage you to check back for updates.

New York State Minimum Wage Increases to Begin December 31, 2013

April 26, 2013

New York State's 2013-2014 budget -- approved on March 29, 2013 -- includes a three-stage increase in the state's minimum wage.  Effective December 31, 2013, the minimum wage will increase from $7.25 per hour to $8.00 per hour.  Effective December 31, 2014, the minimum wage will increase to $8.75 per hour, and effective December 31, 2015, the minimum wage will increase to $9.00 per hour.

These minimum wage increases do not apply to tipped food service workers and service employees who are covered by the New York State Department of Labor's Hospitality Industry Wage Order.  However, the Commissioner of Labor is authorized under the legislation to promulgate a wage order increasing the hourly minimum wage for such tipped employees.

Employers are eligible for a minimum wage reimbursement credit for each employee who:  (1) is between the ages of 16 and 19; (2) is paid at the applicable minimum wage rate; and (3) is a student during the period in which he or she is paid at the applicable minimum wage rate.  During the period of time when the minimum wage is $8.00 per hour, the reimbursement credit is $0.75 per hour for each hour worked by an eligible employee (which is the entire amount of the increase from the current $7.25 per hour minimum wage).  During the period of time when the minimum wage is $8.75 per hour, the reimbursement credit is $1.31 per hour for each hour worked by an eligible employee.  During the period of time when the minimum wage is $9.00 per hour, the reimbursement credit is $1.35 per hour for each hour worked by an eligible employee.  If the federal minimum wage is increased to above 85% of the state minimum wage, however, the reimbursement credit will be reduced to the difference between the federal minimum wage and the New York minimum wage.

The minimum wage reimbursement credit has been criticized because it may create an incentive for employers to hire teenage student employees over adult non-student employees.  Although the legislation creating the reimbursement credit prohibits employers from discharging a non-eligible employee and hiring an eligible employee "solely for the purpose of qualifying for this credit," critics maintain that this provision will be difficult to enforce and point out that nothing in the legislation precludes employers from gradually replacing non-eligible employees with eligible employees through normal attrition rather than by discharging employees.  The reimbursement credit may also create an incentive for employers to keep student employees between the ages of 16 and 19 exactly at the minimum wage because payment of those employees above the minimum wage may result in loss of the reimbursement credit under the language of the legislation.

Based on this criticism, a bill has been introduced in the State Senate to repeal the minimum wage reimbursement credit.  The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations.

Reminder: Wage Theft Prevention Act Annual Notices Must Be Issued to Employees By February 1, January 1, 2013.

January 8, 2013

By Subhash Viswanathan

Employers who have employees in New York are required to issue annual notices under the Wage Theft Prevention Act ("WTPA") to all New York employees between January 1 and February 1, 2013.  Although a bill was introduced in the New York State Legislature to repeal the annual notice requirement in early 2012 (which was the first year that the annual notice requirement was in effect), the bill passed in the Senate but remains dormant in the Assembly.  Therefore, the WTPA annual notice requirement continues to be in effect.

As we have summarized in previous blog posts, the annual notice must contain the following information:

  • the employee's rate or rates of pay (for non-exempt employees, this must include both the regular rate and overtime rate);
  • the employee's basis of pay (e.g., hourly, shift, day, week, salary, piece, commission, or other);
  • allowances, if any, claimed as part of the minimum wage (e.g., tips, meals, lodging);
  • the regular pay day; and
  • the name (including any "doing business as" name), address, and telephone number of the employer.

The annual notice must be provided to each employee in English and in the primary language identified by each employee, if the New York State Department of Labor ("NYSDOL") has prepared a dual-language form for the language identified by the employee.  At this point, the NYSDOL has prepared dual-language forms in Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Russian, and Spanish.  The English-only and dual-language forms created by the NYSDOL are available on the NYSDOL's web site.  If an employee identifies a primary language other than one of the six languages for which a dual-language form is available, the employer may provide the annual notice in English only.  Employers are not required to use the NYSDOL's forms, but employers who create their own forms must be sure that all of the information required by the WTPA is included.

Employers are required to obtain a signed acknowledgment of receipt of the annual notice from each employee.  The acknowledgment must include an affirmation by the employee that the employee accurately identified to the employer his/her primary language, and that the notice was in the language so identified.  Signed acknowledgments must be maintained for at least six years.

Plan Ahead to Avoid Holiday Party Pitfalls

December 9, 2012

By Mark A. Moldenhauer

This article, authored by Mark Moldenhauer, originally appeared in the December 10, 2012 issue of the Buffalo Law Journal.

With calendars flipped to December, many companies are putting the final touches on holiday party plans.  These celebrations offer an opportunity to unwind, socialize, and reflect on the achievements of the past year, all outside of the hectic business environment.  Employers need to be aware, however, that holiday functions also raise a host of potential legal problems, especially when alcohol is served.  So while the trimmings and trappings deserve due attention, prudent employers should also consider ways to minimize the chance for a legal hangover.

1.  Boughs of Holly Are Fine -- Forget the Mistletoe!

Some people tend to exude an excessive amount of cheer during the holiday season.  Stories abound about executives dancing provocatively with interns or messengers flirting with the CEO’s spouse.  While no one wants to bah-humbug the festivities, it is important for employers to keep in mind that many of the same rules that apply in the workplace must be enforced at holiday parties.  This includes policies that prohibit sexual and other forms of harassment.

If you rely on a vendor or banquet facility to coordinate the event, be explicit that you intend this to be a professional function (yes, ask the DJ for a set list).  While gag gifts and "roasting" speeches might be popular, a fine line exists between good-natured ribbing and public humiliation.  Ideally, any gifts and planned remarks should be vetted and approved in advance.  Few things ring in the New Year worse than a hostile work environment or discrimination lawsuit.

2.  Take It Easy on the Eggnog

Whether it is loosening inhibitions or causing problems after-the-fact, alcohol is frequently the cause of holiday party problems.  As the sponsor, an employer must be keenly aware of the risks posed by serving alcohol and consider different options to reduce those risks.

In New York and several other states, “social hosts” are generally not liable for alcohol-related accidents or injuries suffered off-premises by third parties.  This is not the case in every state, so an employer should familiarize itself with the applicable law where the function is being held.  Also keep in mind that when revelers cross state lines, a claim might arise in one jurisdiction even though the host would not be liable to third parties in the state where the party actually occurred (for instance, a party in New York followed by an accident in New Jersey).  In addition, employees and guests under the age of 21 must never be served alcohol.  Many states, including New York, specifically allow claims against social hosts when alcohol is served illegally.  For this and other reasons, employers should insist that bartenders check ID or use some other system to ensure that they are not giving alcohol to underage attendees.

As for injuries suffered after the party by inebriated employees or guests, courts will typically find that a person’s voluntary intoxication caused his or her injury.  This includes situations where an employee or guest gets hurt in a motor vehicle accident.  Of course, this does nothing to lessen the non-legal consequences of someone becoming injured or worse while driving home from a holiday party.

On-premises injuries are a different story.  An employer has a duty to prevent harm to those on its property and in areas under its control, which could include an off-site facility that the employer leases for its holiday party.  If the employer learns that an employee or guest is intoxicated or otherwise acting inappropriately, reasonable steps should be taken to prevent the situation from escalating.

An employer-sponsored holiday party will almost certainly be considered as relating to employment, even if attendance is voluntary.  As a result, the exclusive remedy for an employee who suffers an injury at the party will normally be workers’ compensation benefits.  That said, injuries caused solely by alcohol consumption are normally deemed non-compensable under most workers’ compensation laws, including New York’s.  Also, injuries suffered in a car accident during an employee’s drive home will not likely be covered since commuting is generally considered outside the scope of employment for workers’ compensation purposes.

3.  Make Your List . . . and Check it Twice

 Without a doubt, holiday parties have their advantages, including the positive impact on employee morale.  Employers are encouraged, however, to do some advance planning in order to at least reduce potential risks.  Taking proactive steps will hopefully allow everyone to enjoy themselves, both during and after the party.

In addition to the measures discussed above, consider taking the following steps to help ensure that your festivities remain safe and jolly:

  • Arrange transportation to and from the event or notify employees and guests that the company will cover cab fare;
  • Coordinate discounted rates for employees and guests with nearby hotels;
  • If the party is on the employer’s premises, hire a professional bartender or caterer and confirm that they carry sufficient liability insurance;
  • Instruct bartenders to serve conservatively, “cut off” anyone who appears intoxicated and prohibit employees and guests from serving drinks;
  • Limit the amount of alcohol served by providing non-alcoholic options, reducing the hours of open bar, giving attendees vouchers for drinks or using a cash bar;
  • Recruit spotters to watch for excessive drinking and other inappropriate behavior;
  • Serve foods that are rich in starch or protein to slow the absorption of alcohol and avoid salty foods that encourage people to drink;
  • Contact your insurance carriers to discuss whether current policies provide sufficient coverage and, if not, purchase a product that will;
  • Consider alternative formats which discourage heavy drinking, such as a breakfast or lunch function or a party with significant others and children;
  • Advise employees that attendance is strictly voluntary and refrain from activities that can be viewed as compensable work under the Fair Labor Standards Act;
  • Schedule the party on a day that will not conflict with any employee’s religious observances; and, last but not least,
  • Remember:  “Holiday Party” not “Christmas Party”!  Most workplaces are incredibly diverse and comprised of individuals who celebrate a variety of religious and secular holidays.  Do not engender feelings of exclusion by emphasizing one particular set of traditions or beliefs.

Reminder to Employers: New York Election Law Notices Should Be Posted No Later Than October 23, 2012

October 18, 2012

As campaign ads, mailings, and yard signs flood New York, voters across the State are constantly reminded that election season is upon us.  With the general election only a few weeks away, it is also a reminder to employers that New York’s Election Leave Law requires all employers to post a voting leave notice at least ten (10) working days before “every election.”  This year, the general election will be held on November 6, 2012.  Therefore, employers must, if they have not already done so, post a notice no later than October 23, 2012.

A sample of the notice required under the New York Election Law can be found on the New York State Board of Elections’ website.  This notice must be posted at least ten (10) working days before the election “conspicuously in the place of work where it can be seen as employees come or go to their place of work” and must remain in place until the polls close on Election Day.  The Election Law requires the notice to be posted before “every election” – not just general elections – so employers should consider whether to keep this notice posted throughout the year.

In addition to posting the notice, employers should also make sure to afford employees voting leave when obligated to do so.  Under New York Election Law § 3-110, registered voters are entitled to take up to two (2) hours of paid time off from work if they do not have “sufficient time" outside of their working hours to vote.  If the registered voter has four (4) consecutive hours either between the opening of the polls and the beginning of the working shift, or between the end of the working shift and the closing of the polls, it will be assumed that the voter has sufficient time to vote.  (For general elections, the polls in New York State open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 9:00 p.m.).

However, the voter is not automatically entitled to take paid time off to vote if he or she does not have four consecutive hours at the beginning or at the end of the working shift.  The voter must still show that the time he or she has at the beginning or at the end of the working shift is not sufficient to vote.  If the voter can make such a showing, the voter will be entitled to take only as much paid time off (up to a maximum of two (2) hours) that, when added to the voting time the voter has outside working hours, will enable the individual to vote.  Furthermore, New York’s Election Leave Law requires employees to notify the employer at least two (2) working days, but not more than ten (10) working days, prior to the election of the need for voting leave.  For this year’s general election, requests for time off to vote should be made between Tuesday, October 23, 2012 and Friday, November 2, 2012.  The employer may designate that this paid leave be taken off at the beginning or the end of the working shift, unless there is another mutually-agreed upon time.

Appellate Court Holds That Employers Who Hire Undocumented Aliens Are Still Entitled to the Protections of the Workers' Compensation Law

October 15, 2012

By Richard S. Finkel

On September 26, 2012, the Second Department Appellate Division held that an employer who hires undocumented aliens in violation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 ("IRCA") is still shielded by the Workers' Compensation Law if those employees are injured on the job.

IRCA was adopted by Congress in an attempt to curtail illegal immigration.  Toward that end, it imposed a duty upon employers to verify a prospective employee's identity and work eligibility by examining the individual's documentation prior to hiring.  Absent the requisite documentation, employment cannot be offered.  Employers who violate IRCA are subject to civil and criminal penalties.

The Workers' Compensation Law insulates employers from personal injury claims brought by their employees, and also precludes third party claims against the employer for contribution and indemnification except in instances of “grave injury” or where the employer contracted to provide such indemnification.

How do these federal and state provisions relate?  In a matter of first impression, the Second Department Appellate Division was asked to decide whether the protection afforded employers under the Workers' Compensation Law was still available in the event that the employer violated IRCA.  Yes, it was, according to the decision in New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens v. Microtech Construction Corp.

In arriving at that conclusion, the Court made several observations.  First, it noted that in adopting IRCA, Congress expressly preempted all state and local laws that imposed civil or criminal sanctions upon employers for similar offenses.  It also observed that the statute was silent as to any further preemptive effect.  Indeed, to the contrary, IRCA’s legislative history demonstrated a lack of intent to diminish existing labor protections.  Consistent with that conclusion, the Court determined that there could be no express preemption of the Workers' Compensation Law, as none of its relevant provisions seek to impose civil or criminal sanctions for employing undocumented aliens.

While the Court acknowledged that stripping away the protections of the Workers' Compensation Law from an IRCA-violating employer may support the federal statute’s ultimate goals, it held nevertheless that retaining such protections despite an IRCA violation did not present such an obstacle to attaining Congress’ objectives that the Workers' Compensation Law could be considered preempted.  Thus, the Court ruled that an IRCA violation did not serve to diminish or remove the protections afforded an employer under the Workers' Compensation Law.

Governor Cuomo Signs Amendment to Wage Deduction Statute

September 10, 2012

By Andrew D. Bobrek

As we reported in a prior blog post, an amendment to New York's wage deduction statute -- New York Labor Law Section 193 -- was passed by the Senate and Assembly in June.  Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation on September 7.  This amendment – effective on November 6, 2012 – will permit New York employers to make a wider range of payroll deductions than currently enumerated in Section 193 and will impose several new deduction-related requirements.

As many employers are aware, the New York State Department of Labor (“NYSDOL”) in recent years significantly narrowed its interpretation of Section 193.  To summarize, NYSDOL has taken the position that a wage deduction is not permissible unless it is very “similar” to those expressly recognized in the statute as lawful (e.g., deductions for “insurance premiums, pension or health and welfare benefits, contributions to charitable organizations, payments for United States bonds, [and] payments for dues or assessments to a labor organization”).  This interpretation varied from the NYSDOL’s historical focus on whether the deduction is for the “benefit of the employee.”

Diverging from this historical focus, NYSDOL more recently opined that the following types of employee wage deductions, among others, are unlawful:  (a) deductions for loans, wage overpayments, or wage advances owed to an employer; (b) deductions for the recoupment of tuition assistance monies owed to an employer; and (c) deductions for purchases from employers or employer-sponsored stores, cafeterias, and like establishments.  To reiterate, NYSDOL found these types of deductions to be unlawful (even with an employee’s voluntary agreement and written authorization) because they were not sufficiently “similar” to Section 193’s enumerated list of permissible payments.

Fortunately for New York employers and employees, the recent amendment to Section 193 will expand the enumerated list of permissible wage deductions to include deductions for:

  • Prepaid legal plans;
  • Purchases made at events sponsored by a bona fide charitable organization affiliated with the employer, where at least twenty percent of the profits from the event are contributed to a bona fide charitable organization;
  • Discounted parking or discounted passes, tokens, fare cards, vouchers, or other items that entitle an employee to use mass transit;
  • Fitness center, health club, and/or gym membership dues;
  • Cafeteria and vending machine purchases made at the employer’s place of business and purchases made at gift shops operated by the employer, where the employer is a hospital, college or university;
  • Pharmacy purchases made at the employer’s place of business;
  • Tuition, room, board, and fees for pre-school, nursery, primary, secondary, and/or post-secondary educational institutions;
  • Day care, before-school and after-school care expenses; and
  • Payments for housing provided at no more than market rates by non-profit hospitals or affiliates.

The amendment will also expressly permit deductions made in conjunction with an employer-sponsored pre-tax contribution plan approved by the Internal Revenue Service or other local taxing authority.  As the above list indicates, some of the new enumerated deductions will only be permitted for certain types of employers (e.g., hospitals, colleges and universities).  It is not apparent why legislative drafters included these limitations.

Importantly, the amendment will additionally permit employers to recover inadvertent wage overpayments and wage advances by payroll deductions under certain circumstances and subject to future NYSDOL rulemaking.  According to the amendment, these forthcoming rules must include provisions governing the terms and conditions under which employers may deduct for wage overpayments and advances and must also include provisions relating to employee notice and dispute resolution procedures.

The amendment also imposes new deduction-related requirements, which New York employers must follow.  For example, the amendment provides that “all terms and conditions of the payment and/or its benefits and the details of the manner in which the deductions will be made” must be provided to employees in advance.  Additionally, employers must give advanced notice to employees if there is a “substantial change” in the terms or conditions of the payment (e.g., a change in the amount of the deduction, or in the corresponding benefits).  The amendment also establishes limitations on the total amount of deductions that may be made for certain purposes each pay period, and requires that employees have access to real-time information regarding certain deduction-related expenses.

Employers must now also keep any “written authorization” required under Section 193 for the respective employee’s entire period of employment and, then, for an additional six (6) years after the end of that employment.  For employers with union-represented workers, the amended Section 193 clarifies that the requisite “written authorization” may be provided pursuant to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.  Except where a deduction is “required or authorized” in such a current collective bargaining agreement, the amendment further provides that employees are free to revoke their authorization at any time.  In such an event, employers must then cease the wage deduction in question “as soon as practicable” and not later than four pay periods or eight weeks after the employee’s revocation, whichever occurs sooner.

Finally, New York employers should take note that the amendment has a three-year “sunset” provision, and, therefore, would require additional legislation to make the corresponding changes to Section 193 permanent.  As with any new legislation, employers should carefully review the amendment to Section 193 and should prepare accordingly in advance of the pending effective date.

Fourth Department Appellate Division Upholds Validity of Wicks Law Amendments

August 31, 2012

By Richard S. Finkel

On July 6, 2012, the Fourth Department Appellate Division held that the 2008 amendments to the Wicks Law, including a requirement that contractors and subcontractors participate in apprentice training programs approved by the Department of Labor in order for a project labor agreement ("PLA") to qualify for an exemption from the Wicks Law, are valid and constitutional.

The Wicks Law requires that governmental entities in New York prepare separate bid specifications and award separate contracts for the plumbing, heating and ventilation, and electrical components of those publicly-funded construction projects that exceed their monetary cost threshold.  This requirement is often fiscally and administratively burdensome to the public entity.

In 2008, to alleviate some of that stress, the formerly uniform monetary threshold was modified to a three-tier system with trigger amounts of $3,000,000 for the five New York City counties, $1,500,000 for Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester, and $500,000 for all other counties.  Labor Law Section 222 was adopted at the same time, providing for a full exemption from the Wicks Law requirements where the project is covered by a qualifying PLA.  The statute defines a PLA as:

a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement between a contractor and a bona fide building and construction trade labor organization establishing the labor organization as the collective bargaining representative for all persons who will perform work on a public project, and which provides that only contractors and subcontractors who sign a pre-negotiated agreement with the labor organization can perform project work.

In order for the PLA to qualify the project for exemption, it must provide that each contractor and subcontractor participate in apprentice training programs approved by the Department of Labor.

In Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors v. M. Patricia Smith, both the three-tier threshold and the apprentice training program requirement were challenged as unconstitutional.  The three-tier threshold was attacked, in part, upon the premise that it was enacted with procedural deficiencies that violated the home rule provisions of the New York State Constitution.  However, the Court held that the enactment bore a direct and reasonable relationship to a substantial State concern, and was a valid exercise of legislative power under Article IX of the Constitution.

The apprentice training program requirement was challenged as exclusionary.  According to the plaintiffs, it unfairly burdened contractors and subcontractors by requiring them to maintain apprentice training programs of their own, for all public projects meeting the new thresholds.  They argued that the legislation served to disqualify out-of-state contractors from large public construction projects, and inhibited a disproportionate number of minority-owned and women-owned businesses from qualifying for work on such projects.  The Court disagreed with the plaintiffs' interpretation of Labor Law Section 222.  The Court held that the apprentice training requirement is not universal, and applies only to those projects where the government entity has elected to utilize a PLA.  Further, the Court also held that any contractor or subcontractor entering into a qualifying PLA is deemed to be participating in an apprentice training program.  The individual contractors and subcontractors need not maintain an apprentice training program of their own.

In the aftermath of the Fourth Department's decision, it would be economically prudent for governmental entities to examine the feasibility of a PLA that complies with Labor Law Section 222 for their next public construction project.

New York's Wage Deduction Statute Poised for Amendment

June 21, 2012

By Andrew D. Bobrek

Yesterday, an amendment to New York’s wage deduction statute – New York Labor Law Section 193 – passed both the New York State Senate and Assembly.  The amendment is expected to be signed by Governor Cuomo.  This legislation, if enacted, would permit employers to make a wider range of payroll deductions than currently enumerated in Section 193.

As we previously reported, the New York State Department of Labor has over the last couple of years issued several opinion letters which significantly narrow its interpretation of Section 193.  To summarize, NYSDOL has taken the position that a wage deduction is not permissible unless it is very similar to those expressly recognized in the statute as lawful (e.g., payments for insurance premiums, pension, or health and welfare benefits).  This interpretation varies from the NYSDOL’s historical focus on whether the deduction is for the “benefit of the employee.”

The pending amendment to Section 193 would expand the enumerated list of permissible wage deductions to include, among other things, deductions for:  (1) discounted parking costs; (2) certain mass transit costs; (3) gym membership dues; (4) certain cafeteria, vending machine, and gift shop purchases; (5) pharmacy purchases made at the employer’s place of business; (6) tuition, room, and board payments for educational pursuits; and (7) day care costs.  Notably for employers, the legislation would also permit the recovery of wage overpayments and wage advances by payroll deduction under certain circumstances and subject to future NYSDOL rulemaking.

We will continue to monitor this development and will provide additional details on our blog if and when the amendment is signed into law.