Sunday, November 29, 2009

Law Protecting Workers From Retaliation Takes Effect

The New York Times

A law that increases penalties for companies that retaliate against employees who complain about labor-law violations takes effect this week, at a time when the state has stepped up enforcement of minimum-wage standards and other labor standards.

The law increases the minimum civil penalty for retaliation to $2,000 from $200 and the maximum penalty to $10,000 from $1,000. The new law also allows the state labor commissioner to award lost compensation to workers who have been victims of employer retaliation.

“Every worker in New York is afforded basic protections under state labor law -– minimum wage, meal breaks and the right to be paid in a timely manner,” Gov. David A. Paterson, who signed the law on Aug. 26, said in a statement. “Oftentimes, when workers are not afforded those rights, many are too apprehensive to come forward due to fear of retaliation by their employers. This law will persuade more workers to come forward, while at the same time ensuring that lawbreaking employers who do retaliate against workers will face stiff penalties.”

Retaliatory acts include firings, demotions, salary reductions and reassignments to less-desirable work shifts or work duties.

In January, the State Department of Labor said it had recovered $24.6 million in lost wages for more than 17,000 workers — the largest amount of collected and distributed monies in the department’s 100-year history.

But since 2007, there have been a number of troubling cases of employer retaliations, the Labor Department said, citing several examples: three Long Island restaurant workers dismissed for complaining about subminimum wages, a backstretch worker from the Saratoga race course denied a job he had been promised because of his role in a state investigation into the racing industry and a supermarket bagger fired after reporting that he had only been paid tips, not wages.

The Labor Department encouraged anyone with complaints of labor-law violations to call 1-888-52-LABOR.

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