Compliance Watch:
Penalties for Breaking New York Labor Laws

April 11th 2024

New York has established a comprehensive framework of labor laws designed to safeguard the rights and interests of workers in the Big Apple. These laws encompass a wide range of areas, including wage and hour regulations, employee classification, workplace safety standards, discrimination and harassment protections, and family and medical leave provisions.

As an employer, staying informed about the legal landscape can give you a significant advantage by ensuring your business operations align with the established labor regulations. This proactive approach not only safeguards employees’ rights but also protects your business’s reputation and financial well-being.

This Article Covers

Most Common Labor Law Violations in New York
Penalties for Breaking New York Labor Laws
How You Can Avoid Violating New York Labor Laws

Most Common Labor Law Violations in New York

In New York, like any other state, certain violations are more common than others. And by familiarizing yourself with these violations, you can take proactive measures so you don’t make the same mistakes.

  • Misclassifying Employees as Contractors: With the rise of the “gig economy,” more and more employers are availing services from independent contractors. But there remains a ton of confusion surrounding who should be classified as workers and contractors. This has led to higher employee misclassification cases. New York State’s data on employee classification enforcement reveals that from 2008 to the first quarter of 2022, the state identified 1.7 million workers who were either misclassified or paid off the books.
  • Not paying at least the minimum wage: One of the leading causes of wage theft in New York State is failing to pay the minimum wage. A 2014 study from the US Department of Labor found that there were approximately 188,000 minimum wage violations each week in New York, which resulted in a loss of $10.2 million in weekly income for workers.
  • Child labor violations: New York has specific laws in place to protect the well-being and education of children, including restrictions on the types of work minors can perform and the hours they can work; despite these laws, child labor violations still occur in the Big Apple. In fact, the state has seen a 68 percent increase in child labor violations in 2022 compared to the previous year.

Penalties for Breaking New York Labor Laws

New York labor laws are in place to safeguard the rights and well-being of workers across the state. And violating these laws come with a price. Here’s a look at key New York labor laws that every employer should know and the consequences of not following them:

New York Minimum Wage Act

In New York, employers face the challenge of navigating different minimum wage rates based on location. These rates are periodically reviewed and adjusted by the New York State Department of Labor to account for economic conditions and the cost of living.

The latest changes, effective from January 1, 2024, have established the following minimum wage rates:

Minimum Wage Policy in New York
Location Minimum Wage
New York City $16.00
Long Island and Westchester $16.00
Remainder of New York State $15.00

The state also sets a different minimum wage for tipped workers like bartenders and waitstaff. The minimum wage requirements can differ based on their location and the industry they work in. To better understand tipped wages in New York, refer to the table below:

New York City Long Island and Westchester County The Rest of New York State
Service Employees $13.35 cash wage $2.65 tip credit $13.35 cash wage $2.65 tip credit $12.50 cash wage $2.50 tip credit
Food Service Workers $10.65 cash wage $5.35 tip credit $10.65 cash wage $5.35 tip credit $10.00 cash wage $5.00 tip credit
Penalty for Violation

Employers breaking the Minimum Wage Law can face criminal charges and penalties. They may also be taken to civil court.

The Commissioner of Labor can demand that an employer pays the owed minimum wages, along with liquidated damages, interest, and civil penalties that can be as high as 200 percent of the unpaid wages.

New York Overtime Law

New York employers must comply with both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Overtime Law.

According to New York Overtime Law, employees are generally entitled to receive 1.5 times their regular pay for any work exceeding 40 hours per week. Residential or live-in employees, on the other hand, must be paid at the same rate for any hours worked beyond 44 in a workweek.

Not all workers are entitled to overtime rate, though; there are certain exemptions under the law, including:

  • Outside sales professionals
  • Farm laborers 
  • Volunteers, interns, and apprentices
  • Taxicab drivers
  • Employees of religious and charitable organizations
  • Camp counselors 
  • Part-time babysitters, and so on.

It’s also important to note that FLSA doesn’t mandate employers to provide overtime pay for holidays, weekends, night shifts, or when working on scheduled days off, but they can do so if they choose.

Learn more details about New York Overtime Laws in our detailed guide.

Penalty for Violation

State penalties for withholding overtime pay can be twice the owed amount, and fines of up to $10,000 per year.

FLSA, on the other hand, can impose a civil money penalty of up to $1,000 per violation for employers that deliberately or repeatedly violate FLSA’s overtime pay requirements.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is an important federal law that regulates time off from work. It grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for important family and medical reasons, such as the birth or adoption of a child or caring for a family member with a serious health condition.

This law also mandates that employers continue providing health benefits to employees during their leave and restore them to their previous or comparable positions when they return to work.

Penalty for Violation

The Wage and Hour Division oversees and enforces the FMLA for private, state, and local government employees, as well as certain federal employees. If violations can’t be resolved satisfactorily, the US Department of Labor can take the matter to court to ensure compliance.

If the court sides with the person who filed the complaint, they can order the employer to allow them to take FMLA leave and provide them with financial compensation, which may include attorney fees and court expenses.

New York State (NYS) Paid Family Leave Act

The NYS Paid Family Leave Act is one of the most comprehensive family leave policies in the US, providing coverage for new parents, family caregivers, and military families with active duty deployment. It applies to most employees in the private sector, including part-time workers.

To qualify for paid family leave, the employee must have worked for a private NYS employer and consistently worked 20 hours or more per week for 26 consecutive weeks or regularly worked less than 20 hours per week for 175 days.

The NYS Paid Family Leave Act shares similarities to FMLA in that both laws ensure that workers can return to their jobs after taking leave. There are also some important differences between the two. The big one is that in the NYS Paid Family Leave Act, covered workers have the right to be paid during their leave, whereas the FMLA only guarantees unpaid time off.

Penalty for Violation

If an employee is punished for taking paid leave, the law allows employees to take legal action to stop the wrongdoing and seek compensation. This includes money damages, liquidated damages, and reasonable attorney fees from their employers.

Moreover, the New York State Department of Labor can impose civil penalties on employers, ranging up to $10,000 for a first violation and $20,000 for subsequent violations. They can also require employers to reinstate affected employees and provide them with back pay to compensate for the harm caused by the violation.

Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA)

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is a federal law that protects workers from physical harm or even death in the workplace. 

OSHA sets safety and health standards and ensures employers follow them. They also offer information, training, and support to both workers and employers. If an employee thinks their workplace isn’t following safety standards, they can file a complaint and ask OSHA to inspect it without fearing retaliation from their employer.

For general industries, OSHA requires employers to:

  • Provide necessary PPE to employees, such as respirators, safety glasses, face shields, earplugs, gloves, flame-resistant clothing, etc.
  • Provide adequate safety training to employees, either in-house or through third parties, to prepare them for workplace hazards.
  • Keep work areas clean, orderly, and sanitary, including production floors, storage rooms, and walking surfaces.
  • Ensure walking-working surfaces can support the weight of workers, equipment, and machinery.
  • Provide safe entry and exit points for employees in walking-working areas.
  • Regularly inspect and maintain walking-working surfaces for safety.
  • Correct or repair hazardous walking-working areas before allowing employee access.
Penalty for Violation

If an employer doesn’t meet the act’s requirements and fails to ensure a safe work environment for employees, they could face penalties ranging from $5,000 to $70,000 for each violation. The penalties can be far steeper if the violation leads to severe injury or death.

Recordkeeping Laws

Businesses in New York should follow the specific requirements imposed by the Department of Labor and FLSA regarding recordkeeping. It’s important for employers to keep accurate and thorough records throughout an employee’s time with the company, even after their contract ends.

Here are some of the key records that employers need to maintain:

  • Employee profiles, CVs, and any relevant documents related to job duties, such as medical checkups and requests.
  • I-9 forms to confirm employment eligibility.
  • Records of wages and salaries paid to workers.
  • Agreements made between management and labor unions.
  • Records of training, including attendance, certifications, and skill levels.
  • Health records and medical histories of employees.
  • Personal identification numbers like social security and ID numbers.
  • Records of job changes, including promotions, demotions, transfers, and adjustments to pay rates.
  • Penalty for Violation

Failure to keep the records required by the FLSA can result in penalties. Although the Department of Labor cannot impose civil monetary penalties for recordkeeping violations, those who knowingly violate the law may face criminal consequences. These consequences can include fines of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both.

Whistleblower Protection Laws

Whistleblower laws are in place across many states in the US, and New York has a comprehensive guidebook on the subject. In New York, if an employee suspects criminal activity at work, they can report it without fearing any punishment.

The state’s whistleblower law has been expanded since January 2022 to provide even greater protection for employees. Employees are now safeguarded from retaliation in all circumstances, as outlined in Section 740 of New York’s labor laws. Previously, only disclosures made to a supervisor or public entity were protected.

Additionally, employees have the right to recover lost pay, benefits, and seniority rights.

Penalty for Violation

With the recent amendment to New York Whistleblower Protection Laws, plaintiffs now have additional options when seeking compensation. They can now pursue front pay, punitive damages, and a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

In the past, successful plaintiffs were limited to receiving injunctive relief, reinstatement, compensation for lost payments, and attorney’s fees. This amendment expands the possibilities for plaintiffs seeking justice.

New York Meal Break Laws

New York law does not require employers to give their employees rest breaks. There are, however, specific requirements for unpaid meal periods for employees.

In New York State, employers are required to give employees time off for meals after they have worked a certain number of hours. Typically, if an employee works more than 6 hours, the employer must provide at least a 30-minute unpaid break.

Here’s a more detailed at the Meal Period Guidelines as outlined in New York Labor Law Section 162:

  • Factory Workers: They are entitled to a 60-minute lunch break between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Additionally, for shifts lasting more than six hours, starting between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. They should have a 60-minute meal break at the midpoint of their shift.
  • Non-Factory Workers: They should have a 30-minute lunch break between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. for shifts lasting six hours or longer during that period. For shifts over six hours starting between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., they are entitled to a 45-minute meal break at the midpoint of their shift.
  • All Workers: Regardless of whether they are factory or non-factory workers, if their workday extends from before 11:00 a.m. to after 7:00 p.m., they are entitled to an additional 20-minute meal break between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

These meal period requirements ensure employees have appropriate breaks during their shifts.

Penalty for Violation

If employers in New York don’t provide employees with their required meal breaks, they must compensate them for that time worked. And if the total hours worked in a week go over 40, employees are entitled to overtime pay.

How You Can Avoid Violating New York Labor Laws

Tip #1 Familiarize yourself with labor laws

Take the time to educate yourself on the specific labor laws that apply to your industry and business. Stay updated on any changes or amendments to these laws to ensure ongoing compliance. You can check for updates from reputable sources such as the New York Department of Labor.

Tip #2 Establish Clear Policies

Develop comprehensive policies and procedures that align with New York labor laws. Communicate these policies to all employees and ensure they are easily accessible. Policies should cover areas such as working hours, breaks, wage calculation, anti-harassment, and equal employment opportunities.

Tip #3 Properly Classify Employees

Accurately classify employees as exempt or non-exempt based on their job duties and salary. Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay, while exempt employees are not. Misclassifying employees can lead to violations and legal consequences. It can also be considered a type of wage theft that carries its own set of penalties.

Tip #4 Ensure Fair Compensation

Pay employees according to New York’s minimum wage laws and provide overtime pay when required. And if you want to pay your employees right, you need to keep an accurate record of all the hours they’ve worked. The best way to do this is to use reliable time-tracking software. These tools eliminate the need for manual timekeeping, reducing the chances of errors or discrepancies in time records.

Tip #5 Stay informed and seek guidance

Labor laws can be complex, so it’s important to stay informed and seek professional guidance if needed. Consult with legal experts, human resources professionals, or industry associations to ensure you are in compliance with all applicable laws.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.

Learn more about New York Labor Laws through our detailed guide.