Yet Another Amendment to the New York Labor Law

September 14, 2009

By: Kerry W. Langan

On August 26, 2009, Governor Paterson signed yet another  bill amending sections of the New York Labor Law.  This time, the amendments are designed to provide a greater deterrent effect to employers who violate the law.  The two amendments are described below.


First, Sections 198(1-a) and 663 of the Labor Law have been amended to expressly authorize the Commissioner of Labor to bring legal actions, including administrative proceedings, to collect wage underpayments and to assess liquidated damages. Liquidated damages equal to 25% of the amount of underpayments may be assessed against an employer, unless the employer can demonstrate that it had a “good faith” belief that it was complying with the law. Prior to the amendment, the employee had the burden to prove that the underpayment was willful in order to collect liquidated damages. By shifting this burden of proof from the employee to the employer, the amendment is designed to make it easier for employees to recover liquidated damages.


Second, Section 215 of the Labor Law, which prohibits retaliation against employees who complain about wage underpayments and other labor law violations, was also amended. The new law increases the minimum civil penalty for illegal retaliation from $200 to $1,000, increases the maximum penalty from $2,000 to $10,000, authorizes the Commissioner to order reimbursement for lost compensation, and extends liability for retaliation to partnerships and limited liability companies. 


The amendment also expands the categories of conduct protected against retaliation to include: (1) providing information to the Commissioner or his or her representative; (2) exercising rights afforded under the labor laws; and (3) an employer’s receipt of an adverse determination from the Commissioner involving the employee. Although these new categories were added to further protect employees from retaliation, it should be noted that state employees or employees of any municipal subdivisions or departments of the state are specifically excluded from protection under this section.


Both amendments take effect on November 24, 2009 and apply to violations occurring on or after that date.