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Wage Theft: What to Know If You Think Your Wages Are Stolen

Wage theft is rampant across New York. Between 2017 and 2021, federal and state agencies reported that over 127,000 workers across the state have fallen victim to wage theft amounting to $203 million in stolen wages. Many more cases go unreported.  

Although any worker could have their wages stolen by unscrupulous employers, it’s important to be aware of what your rights are in case you find yourself in that unfortunate situation. 

The first thing to know is that regardless of your legal status, workers are protected by United States labor law. In fact, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will issue U-Visa certifications in support of undocumented workers who experienced workplace abuses such as labor trafficking or other workplace abuses. 

Workers who report workplace issues to OSHA are protected from immigration-related retaliation from their employers and will be allowed to remain in the U.S. with lawful status while OSHA investigates and prosecutes illegal workplace practices.

However, wage theft was not listed as one of the qualifying crimes at this time.  

Be aware of the minimum wage

New York State has three forms of minimum wage for three types of employees.  In New York City, Long Island and Westchester, the minimum wage for non-tipped workers is $16 an hour. In the rest of the state, workers earn a minimum wage is $15 an hour.

For tipped food service workers, the law is slightly different. A tipped worker in New York City Long Island and Westchester is entitled to a minimum wage of $10.65 an hour plus a $5.35 tip credit. In the rest of the state, the tipped minimum wage is $10.00 an hour plus a $5.00 top credit. 

All other tipped service workers in New York City Long Island and Westchester who work in places like hotels are entitled to a minimum wage of $13.35 an hour plus $2.65 tip credit. As for the rest of the state, the minimum wage for tipped service workers is $12.50 an hour plus a $2.50 tip credit. 

New York State Labor Law also requires manual workers to be paid weekly, and clerical and other workers at least twice per month. The DOL classifies any worker who spends 25% of working time engaged in “physical labor” as a manual worker. If you are a manual worker and your employer pays you bi-weekly they are breaking the law. 

Overtime Law

Overtime pay is a higher pay rate for all the hours worked after 40 hours in a particular work week. New York Labor Law requires employers to pay one and a half times your regular wage for all the hours worked after you have already worked 40 hours in a work week. 

As an example, if a worker’s wage is $15.00 per hour, they are entitled to overtime pay of $22.50 per hour (one and a half times the regular rate) for any hour they work after 40 hours. 

Almost all workers are entitled to overtime pay, with exceptions such as professional employees who earn a salary.

Prevailing Wage 

According to New York State Labor Law, contractors and subcontractors are required to pay workers working a public workers project a prevailing rate of wage and any fringe benefits.

The rate is determined by the New York State Department of Labor’s Bureau of Public Work or the New York City Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law. That rate is set by localities where the work is performed. Prevailing wage laws apply to all laborers, workers, or mechanics employed under a public work contract.

Other building service workers, such as janitors, may also be entitled to the prevailing wage when working under a contract for a government or public agency. 

To learn more about prevailing-wage requirements and to see if your job site qualifies, contact the New York State Department of Labor, Bureau of Public Work, at 1-800-662-1220 or the New York City Comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law at 1-212-669-3500.

Some localities across the state also may require that workers under a contract with the local government receive a “living wage” set by the law. A worker should inquire with the local municipality to see if such laws apply to them

Independent Contractors Misclassification

Independent contractors are not entitled to the same labor protections as other workers. To get around labor laws, some unscrupulous employers misclassify employees as independent contractors so they can avoid paying the minimum wage and overtime. 

If a worker believes they are being misclassified by an employer, workers should submit a labor-related complaint to the Labor Bureau.

Wage theft can happen in many ways. Here are a few:

What to do if you suspect you are a victim of wage theft:

If you suspect your employer may be withholding pay from you, you should know that if you stop working, your employer will still owe you wages for the hours you have already worked.

Experts say you should keep detailed documentation of the hours you have worked so far, and what you are owed. This can include pay stubs, notices of pay, time sheets, and other relevant paperwork

You can also report the suspected wage theft to a number of different city and state agencies, including those listed in the next section.

The New York State Department of Labor can assist workers in collecting their unpaid wages, if workers submit a claim through the agency. However, this process is often drawn out, and investigations can take up to several years. 

As an employee, you can also sue your employer in civil court. Suing your employer is a path that many workers may require a drawn out court case, and obtaining legal representation. Attorneys say that employees might have better chances in these class action lawsuits if multiple workers come together and submit a complaint.

Workers also have a right to unionize in their workplace, regardless of their immigration status

The National Labor Relations Board has also unrolled several new policies to safeguard the rights of undocumented workers organizing their workplaces.

General Counsel Jennifer A. Abruzzo issued a memo in 2021 stating that the agency will start seeking immigration relief such as deferred action, parole, continued presence, U or T status, a stay of removal to undocumented workers who witness or were victims of unfair labor practices and had their rights violated under the National Labor Relations Act.

Here are the various agencies in New York City and New York State to report potential wage theft:

You can report wage theft with the New York State Department by calling the agency’s Labor’s Wage Theft Task Force Hotline by calling 833-910-4378, or you can also email labor.sm.ls.ask@labor.ny.gov to ask for assistance.

In order to file a claim regarding unpaid wages, you may need to submit the form LS223, which is available in multiple languages including Spanish, French and Haitian Creole here.

You can submit the completed claim forms to this address:

  • NYS DOL: 
    Division of Labor Standards Harriman State Office Campus 
    Building 12, Room 185B 
    Albany, NY 12226

You can also e-mail your completed claim forms to wageandstandardscomplaints@labor.ny.gov

The DOL says that if you need more help to file the complaint, to call 888-469-7365

To file a complaint with the New York Attorney General’s Office, follow this link for the office’s Employment Complaint Form, and choose the relevant option to your case.

You can also report any suspected workplace violations, including not receiving proper wages or days off, with New York state at this link by filling out the form.

You can also choose to call the Task Force hotline at 888-469-7365. Reports can remain anonymous, according to the state. 

Below are the options for reporting wage theft to the relevant District Attorney’s Office in your borough:

If you are looking for community assistance regarding your potential wage theft case, here are some organizations in New York City that provide support with wage theft cases free of charge, legal or otherwise:

Workers Justice Project (WJP)

WJP is a NYC-based worker center that advocates for better workplace conditions. The group has more than 12,000 members and helps organize low wage immigrant workers looking to “raise workplace standards in the construction, house cleaning, and app-based delivery industries.” WJP recommends that workers come into the office to discuss their cases.

Addresses & contact information:

  • Williamsburg:
    365 Broadway
    Brooklyn, NY 11211
    Phone: 347-889-6340
  • Sunset Park:
    4112 4th Ave
    Brooklyn, NY 11232
    Phone: 347-422-0667

New York Legal Assistance Group’s Employment Law Unit (NYLAG)

Lawyers at NYLAG’s Employment Law Unit “represent workers facing wage theft, discrimination, retaliation, and other unfair treatment by their employers,” NYLAG says.  They can assist workers recover unpaid wages, the organization says.  

Contact information:

  • To speak with someone at NYLAG who deals with Workers’ Rights Issues, call: 212-613-5000 

The Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Unit

Most cases at Legal Aid’s Employment Law Unit involve wage violations, workplace discrimination, and other related issues, Legal Aid says. The unit partners with community-based organizations and worker centers across the city to find and assist clients with employment law problems. 

Contact information:

Legal Services NYC Employment Law and Workers’ Rights practice

This practice at Legal Services NYC helps low-income workers dealing with unpaid wages and overtime pay, among other issues, with advice, referrals and representation, the group says.

Contact information:

  • Lela Services NYC has a Legal Assistance Hotline at 917-661-4500, which is open Monday through Friday from 9:30am to 4pm. You can speak to an intake officer in any language.

El Centro del Inmigrante

The community-based organization, located in Staten Island, advocates for immigrant workers and their families. In conjunction with other organizations, El Centro del Inmigrante offers wage theft claim assistance at their job community center, and wage theft awareness workshops.

Contact info & addresses:

  • El Centro Del Inmigrante Job Community Center 
    260 Port Richmond Ave.
    Staten Island, NY 10302 
  • Phone: ​347-825-2086 ​
  • El Centro Del Inmigrante 
    221 Heberton Ave.
    Staten Island, NY 10302 
  • Phone: 718-420-6466
  • Email: info@elcentronyc.org

New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)

In collaboration with labor unions, legal groups, and the DOL, NICE says it helps organize individual and group cases against employers engaging in workers’ exploitation, including wage theft.

Contact information & address:

  • Main phone: 718-205-1687
  • NICE Worker Center
  • Phone: 929-399-6423
  • 71-29 Roosevelt Avenue, 2nd Floor 
    Queens, NY 11372 
  • Hours of operation: 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

Make the Road New York

The legal team at Make the Road New York helps immigrant workers “recover unpaid wages, access workers compensation benefits, and address health and safety violations,” according to their organization. Their offices in Brooklyn, Queens, and Westchester provide employment and workplace justice services.  

The legal team at Make the Road New York helps immigrant workers “recover unpaid wages, access workers compensation benefits, and address health and safety violations,” according to their organization. Their offices in Brooklyn, Queens, and Westchester provide employment and workplace justice services.

Contact information & addresses:

  • Bushwick, Brooklyn
    • 718-418-7690
    • 301 Grove Street
      Brooklyn, NY 11237
  • Jackson Heights, Queens
    • 718-565-8500
    • 92-10 Roosevelt Avenue
      Jackson Heights, NY 11372
  • White Plains, Westchester
    • (914) 948-8466
    • 46 Waller Ave
      White Plains, NY 10605

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