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Understanding New York Overtime Rights: A Workers’ Guide

A number of successful New York wage-and-hour lawsuits have made headlines recently, after the courts determined companies failed to comply with the state’s strict overtime requirements.

These cases are indicative of a growing trend in employment litigation, where the laws have become more strict and employees are increasingly more educated about their rights.

New York Labor Law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires companies to pay time-and-a-half for any hours over 40 in a regular work week to non-exempt employees. Current minimum wage in the state is $8, until Dec. 31, 2014, when it increases to $8.75. It will increase again the following December to $9 hourly.

Additionally, employers must provide meal periods and breaks to certain workers. Specifically, those who work more than six hours starting at 11 a.m. and continuing until 2 p.m. must be given an uninterrupted lunch period of at least one half hour between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Employers are also strictly limited to certain deductions authorized by the government (i.e., taxes, child support, etc.) unless there is express, written authorization from the worker.

In June, the New York Legislature also passed A08106C/S05885-B, with the purpose of enhancing the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2010. Under the previous law, employers were required to provide notice requirements regarding worker’s pay rate, overtime allowances and other information both to new hires and on an annual basis. While the annual notice requirement has been stricken, new employees are still entitled to receive this information within 10 days of being hired. Those who do not may receive up to $5,000 in compensation.

Both federal and state laws already provided that willful violations of overtime by companies is punishable with liquidated damages, meaning the full amount of overtime pay owed would be doubled, plus the worker would be entitled to receive interest and compensation for attorneys’ fees. Under the new state law, civil fines for repeat offenders doubled from a maximum of $10,000 to $20,000.

The federal statute of limitations on such claims is three years, though state law allows for up to six years in certain instances.

One recent case involving New York wage theft involves a supermarket chain, against which five former workers filed a federal class action lawsuit, alleging the company submitted phony wage statements to avoid paying overtime to minimum wage workers in five stores. Workers say they were paid a straight rate for hours worked over 40, rather than the required time-and-a-half required under law. The workers, including grocery store clerks, maintenance workers and dairy department personnel, are seeking $100 for every work week during which there was a violation, with a maximum of $2,500 per worker, plus costs and attorneys’ fees.

Another recent case involves online networking giant LinkedIn, which has agreed to pay $3.34 million in overtime back wages, plus another $2.5 million in liquidated damages to workers in four states, including New York. The settlement was reached after the U.S. Department of Labor alleged the firm did not follow through with record-keeping and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. An investigation revealed the company failed to record and pay for all hours employees worked each week. As part of the agreement, the company will provide compliance training and bar off-the-clock work for all non-exempt workers and managers.

Workers considering filing a claim against an employee should know it is illegal under the state’s labor standards for a company to penalize or discharge a worker on the basis of a labor law complaint. Consulting an experienced employment litigation attorney is the first step to determining how to proceed with your claim.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
Wages and Hours: Frequently Asked Questions, Labor Standards, New York State Department of Labor
More Blog Entries:
New York Wage and Hour, Employment Issues, to Receive SCOTUS Review, Oct. 10, 2013, New York Wage and Hour Attorney Blog