Every state has its own laws for minimum wages and the employers there are required to comply with it. Employers in New York to have to follow the minimum wage and overtime laws of the state. It is not easy for employers to willfully ignore this law and underpay their employees.
If an employer resorts to such unfair practice, aggrieved employees can seek remedial action with the help of wage and hour lawyers. On being found guilty of violating the law, the employer is liable to be punished and penalized with heavy fines by the courts or the department of labor.
The New York Labour Laws
The federal Fair Labour Standards Act or FLSA and the New York Labour Law or NYLL set requirements to be followed by the employers for paying minimum wages and overtime pay to their employees. In 2010, seeking to give more protection to the workers, the then New York governor David Patterson signed the Wage Theft Prevention Act (WTPA) into a law. It allows for the imposition of more severe penalties for any violation of wage theft.
For example, the WTPA increased the total amount that employee can recover from their employer for any willful violation of the state’s wage and hour laws. This is referred to as liquidated damages and simply means additional monetary reward over and above the unpaid wages. In fact, an employee can now recover twice the amount that the employer owes him or her. However, liquidated damages can only be recovered if the employer has violated the law in bad faith.
Before filing a lawsuit, wage and hour lawyers should ensure that the violation was indeed made in bad faith.A case in point which highlights how stringent the New York state’s labour and human trafficking laws are, and whether double recovery is permitted or not, is the Rana vs Islam case. In April 2018, in the case of Rana v Islam, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued an employee friendly decision relating to wage theft.
The Rana vs Islam case
Rana, a Bangladeshi national, filed a federal lawsuit for numerous violations of state and federal labor and human trafficking laws against the former New York consul general of Bangladesh Monirul Islam and his wife. In his allegation, Rana said that Monirul and his wife lured him to come to the United States to work as a domestic help at their residence in Manhattan.
He was promised a monthly salary of $3000. However, soon after he arrived in the US he realized that these were all false promises and he had to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, in deplorable working conditions. He suffered this ordeal for eighteen months without any compensation.
Whenever he asked for his wages or wanted to leave the apartment, he was subjected to physical abuse and death threats. He was also allegedly forced to sleep on the kitchen floor or in the storeroom and was only given expired or leftover food to eat.
Based on the seriousness of these charges and other facts placed before it, the lower district court awarded Rana $922,597.31 in damages. This included liquidated damages under both the NYLL and the FLSA. NYLL ordered damages worth $114,577.64 and FLSA $66,062.
Facing substantial penalties, Islam appealed the court’s damages order to New York’s highest federal court – the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
Decision on Double Recovery
Prior to the Rana decision, there was no consensus among New York courts on whether or not a successful plaintiff could recover liquidated damages under both the FLSA and NYLL for the same violation.
On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in an attempt to clarify this unsettled area of the law while at the same time making it clear that the court was not in agreement with Islam’s factual challenges to the award, held that double recovery was not permitted. However, the court decided that successful plaintiffs could recover the larger award.
Accordingly, the Second Circuit Court concluded that Rana was only entitled to the NYLL award of $144,677.64, in addition to other types of damages he had been awarded, but not the $66,062.00 that the FLSA had awarded in liquidated damages.
The Rana decision should serve as a wake-up call and a reminder for all New York’s employers that the Department of Labour, as well as New York courts, take wage theft seriously and that it is not possible to escape with for any violation.
Wage and Hour Lawsuit
A wage and hour lawsuit can be filed if one or more worker has not been fully compensated for the work performed as stipulated by the law. Claims arise when employees are not paid for all compensable time given to the job, are underpaid because of miscalculation of the hourly rate for overtime pays or were misclassified as employees who are exempt from overtime.
Another assertion of misclassification is when workers are categorized as non-employees such as independent contractors or volunteers, when, in fact, they were legal employees of the defendant and should have been treated in accordance with one or more wage and hour laws. Wage and Hour lawyers or labor and employment attorney can file a lawsuit if any of the above violations are made.