A report issued by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) indicates that between 2013 and 2015, 1 of every 20 workers in New York was earning less than minimum wage. This statistic puts us in third place among the nation’s most populous states for minimum wage violations. Ohio and Florida are first and second. According to the report, well over 2 million workers in the ten most populous states lost $8 billion annually to minimum wage violations. For a yearly employee, that is an average loss of $3 thousand.
The Institute reached its conclusions after analyzing data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau. The analysis excluded workers whose jobs are specifically exempt from minimum wage requirements.
Wage theft can occur in a variety of ways. It can happen from misclassification of an employee who gets labeled as an independent contractor and loses overtime pay and other benefits. It can occur when a worker is asked to come in early or stay late to perform work-related activities “off the clock.” An employer may just pay an employee an hourly rate that is lower than what it is supposed to be or make deductions that reduce someone’s pay so that it falls below minimum wage. Not paying overtime to eligible workers, misapplying tip-credits, and retaining gratuities are forms of wage theft that occur with frequency in New York and elsewhere.
Any time an employer, intentionally or otherwise, does not pay an employee money he or she is legally owed, it is considered wage theft and the employee can seek to recover their money.
According to the report’s co-author David Cooper, as reported by Gothamist.com, “New York’s high ranking owes in part to its large population of immigrants, who make up a significant portion of the low-wage workforce and are particularly vulnerable to wage theft.” Employers know that immigrants are less likely to speak out because they worry about jeopardizing their immigration status, even when they have proper documentation.
The laws governing the payment of tipped workers in restaurants and other industries are extremely complicated, which also contributes to the high rate of violations. Tip credits, lower cash minimum wages, and other rules make it difficult to know if you are receiving the proper amount of money. Even though employers should be aware of how to calculate and use tip credits, it is largely up to the worker to keep track of hours, tips and pay. Immigrants and other low-wage earners may not understand the complex rules and may be especially fearful of challenging their employers.
New York makes wage rules especially confusing because hourly minimum wage and tip credit amounts vary depending on the location, type and size of the business for which you work. For instance, the minimum wage is higher in New York City than the rest of the state.
New York has strong wage and hour enforcement policies, and there is help for you and your co-workers if your employer is stealing your wages. Contact Leeds Brown Law if you work in a restaurant or any business and are receiving less than minimum wage. Our experienced unpaid wage, unpaid overtime and employment lawyers can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-585-4658.