Jeffrey (Jeff) H. Ruzal, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, was quoted in Law360 Employment Authority, in “’Jury Is Out’ on New NY Wage Theft Law,” by Daniela Porat. (Read the full version – subscription required.)

Following is an excerpt:

New York’s new law making wage theft larceny ups the ante for Empire State employers, but attorneys question how the law will be enforced and how it will dovetail with strong wage protections already in place.

On Sept. 6, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul enacted a law that incorporates wage theft into the state’s larceny statute. The definition of “property” under the statute now includes pay for labor or services performed. 

Jeff Ruzal, a member of management-side firm Epstein Becker Green, said well-meaning employers are already frustrated by “tripwires” in New York’s current wage and hour laws, and this law will push them to be even more vigilant.

He said it’s not clear yet whether prosecutions will focus on employers that fail to pay wages in blatant, intentional and significant ways.

“I think the proverbial jury is out,” he said. “I’m curious which employers or businesses that are found to have engaged or violated the law and engaged in quote-unquote wage theft will be prosecuted criminally for larceny and how often will the [district attorney] seek to enforce the law.” …
New York’s Labor Code, such as in sections 198 and 662, already provides for criminal liability for wage violations, said Ruzal of Epstein Becker.

But what makes the new law more significant, Ruzal said, is the fact that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg established a dedicated Worker Protection unit.

“[It] may give more bite to the law,” he said. “But again, how often and whom this will be enforced against is really what is the big open question that will ultimately answer … whether this is a significant development or not.”

Ruzal said actual instances of wage theft should be distinguishable from an employer’s failure to pay wages because of a technical failure to accurately capture hours worked, for example.

“The fact that there are already such severe penalties available under the existing law with respect to wage and hour violations makes me suspect that this new law will be reserved for particularly egregious violations and offenders,” he said. “That certainly is not clear from the text of the statute.”

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