Lawyers Decipher New Minimum Wage Rules in NY

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the increase, which he and state legislators approved as part of the current state budget in early April 2016, will affect two million New Yorkers who earn the minimum wage.

Minimum-wage workers should begin noticing the first increase in four years in the state's minimum wage with their first paychecks of 2017.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the increase, which he and state legislators approved as part of the current state budget in early April 2016, will affect two million New Yorkers who earn the minimum wage.

The minimum wage hike took effect on Dec. 31 and is among several laws that took effect over the past weekend.

Cuomo said in a New Year's Day statement that "no one who works full time should be condemned to live a life of poverty."

But Mark Brossman, a partner at Schulte Roth & Zabel in Manhattan and co-chair of the firm's employment and employee benefit department, said implementing the statute would be more problematic for employers than previous increases because of the multi-tiered nature of the new wage schedules.

"It's a confusing statute," he said in an interview Tuesday. "And with any statute that is confusing, the roll out does not go particularly well. ... We expect to see implementation problems and inconsistencies."

The minimum wage increase was supported by Cuomo's "Campaign for Economic Justice," which the governor named in honor of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo. The coalition, strongly supported by unions in the state, also pushed for a bill approved last year that requires some employers to provide 12 weeks' worth of family leave to some workers.

Cuomo said the new year will signal the start of what he called a "transition period" in which he said the state will not at first seek to punish employers who don't raise the pay of minimum-wage workers because they are unaware of the law. The governor said that only those employers who show "willful" or "egregious" violations would be sanctioned at first.

Cuomo said he had assembled a task force of 200 state employees who will fan out across the state to inform employers of their obligations under the new minimum wage law.

The new law introduces a tiered system for minimum wages for the first time in New York, with workers in higher-cost areas of the state getting higher wages, and pay set according to the size of employers in some cases.

Workers in New York City who are employed by larger businesses, defined as those with 11 or more employees, received minimum wages of $11 beginning on Dec. 31. They will be in line for boosts of $2 an hour at the end of 2017 and then another $2 at the end of 2018 to reach the maximum under the new increase of $15 an hour.

Workers in the suburban counties of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties got raises to $10 an hour on New Year's Eve, while workers in the rest of the state began getting $9.70 an hour on Dec. 31.

Increases for the suburban workers will top off at $15 an hour at the end of 2021 and at $12.50 an hour at the end of 2020 for workers upstate. Cost-of-living indexing from that point forward could result in upstate workers getting raises to $15 an hour in the 2020s, according to Cuomo's office.

Bruce Millman, office managing shareholder at Littler Mendelson in Manhattan, said some employers in the metropolitan New York area employ workers in minimum-wage jobs in different locations where the pay will vary under the new tiered laws. Employers must keep meticulous records to show they paid workers accurately according to where the worker actually put in his time, he said.

"There will not be any ease of keeping track of this," Millman said in an interview Tuesday.

Karen Cacace, director of the employment law unit for the Legal Aid Society of New York City, also said Tuesday that the multi-tiered and multi-geographical nature of the increase will make this minimum wage hike more complicated to enact throughout the state than other recent wage increases in the state.

Adding to the difficulties, she said, is the fact that English is not the first language of many of the workers who are in jobs that pay the minimum.

"It is the employers' obligation to provide them [notifications of the increase] in a language they can understand."

The Legal Aid Society operates a hotline to receive complaints about minimum wage and other wage disputes.

Cuomo said the state Department of Labor's hotline was also available for those who believe they are not getting the wage increases as they should. The labor bureau in the state Attorney General's office also will monitor compliance with the law, said unit chief ReNika Moore in a statement.

New York is among 19 states that started 2017 with higher minimum wages, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Others include California, Florida, New Jersey and Massachusetts. The planned increases in both California and New York are the largest, ultimately topping out at $15 an hour.

Other new laws brought with the new year include:

  • Opioid treatments. Prompted by the spike in addiction to opioid-related drugs noted in the past few years, New Yorkers will no longer need prior approval from insurance companies when accessing emergency inpatient drug treatment, nor will they need insurers' approval for drugs needed by addicts in the first days of treatment for their dependencies.

  • Posting regulations and amendments. State agencies will be required to post on their websites changes they propose making to regulations governing the operations of their departments or offices.

  • Tuna labelling. Retailers and restaurateurs are now required to make sure that the fish they are selling as "white tuna" is actual tuna. Sponsors said they were reacting to complaints that fish sometimes sold as tuna is actually escolar. In addition to being lower-priced, legislative sponsors said escolar can also cause digestive problems for some consumers.

Originally appeared in print as Lawyers Decipher New Minimum Wage Rules in New York State.

Originally published on New York Law Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Contributing Author

Joel Stashenko

Joel Stashenko is a reporter at the New York Law Journal.

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