Perhaps you've heard the excellent news that last Friday, April 1, 2016, the New York State Senate overwhelmingly approved a new minimum wage for New York State of $15 dollars an hour. This was the thrilling culmination of a hard-fought campaign that began years ago, with a small group of activists dedicated to the Fight for 15 movement, a movement some considered unreasonable and unrealistic.
New York City law and New York State law provide specific protections for tipped workers, but many people who work in the restaurant industry are not fully aware of their rights.
Worker misclassification is a major issue in many employment lawsuits. Often he question is whether the worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor. Workers classified as employees are afforded certain protections under the law, including workers' compensation, the minimum wage, overtime pay and the right to organize as a union. Independent contractors are not guaranteed those protections.
When you factor in inflation, the federal minimum wage is at its lowest in many years, yet some employers continue to cheat workers out of their minimum wage and fail to pay overtime. This kind of violation is more common than people may realize, and much more can be done to protect workers from wage violations.
It's been a good month for those fighting the scourge of unpaid quote-unquote "internships," which are too often simply part-time or full-time jobs in disguise. First, NBCUniversal agreed to settle with a group of former unpaid interns for Saturday Night Live, who sued as a class for labor law and wage violations. Now this week comes news that Conde Naste, publishing empire, has also decided to settle, to the tune of 5.8 million, the class action suit brought against it by its own former interns. The Conde Nast settlement is perhaps a bit more expected: the company appears to have known it had entered into some dangerous waters in its internship practices, and decided to end the program entirely this past summer.
Fighting on behalf of workers who have been denied their hourly wages is part of our legal practice at Serrins Fisher LLP. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York state labor law govern wage requirements for private and public sector workers, including restaurant employees who can be paid less than the state or federal minimum wage. An attorney with experience in this area of law can help protect your rights if you have been wronged by an employer.
Since the economic crisis of 2008 and subsequent recession, we've seen a significant increase in the number of lawsuits filed by unpaid interns, alleging labor violations. As this Forbes article details, it isn't necessarily that the amount of unpaid internships has increased - these have been with us since the early 1990s. Rather, the Great Recession has significantly decreased the likelihood of obtaining a full-time position from an unpaid internship. ("As for unpaid internships, students who have them are today hardly more likely to get a job offer [37 percent] than those who have no internship at all [35 percent].") Additionally, graduates unable to find work are now being pulled into the mix, working for free and not even earning academic credit for that work.
Ensuring the fair and full payment of wages is a priority for all seasons, though the issue has received much needed attention in recent months. Fast-food workers, misclassified workers in the logistics industry, and mistreated immigrant workers have all recently seen their unfair wages become the subject of lawsuits and media scrutiny.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay non-salaried, non-exempt employees at least a minimum hourly wage of $7.25. States can set the minimum wage higher, though the federal minimum is currently $7.25. The FLSA also requires employers to pay 150 percent of a non-salaried employee's regular compensation rate for every hour that exceeds 40 in a single work week. These wage and hour laws are meant to ensure that workers receive the compensation they earn.
New York employees may work for several reasons -- they enjoy the job, they would be bored if not employed, etc. -- but almost all would agree that a primary reason they work is for the money. People need money to pay their bills and enjoy life, and most expect that their jobs will provide this income for them. Unfortunately, however, some employees are taken advantage of by their employers and forced to work long hours while being denied overtime. Because there are wage & hour laws that prevent this sort of behavior, employees in this situation can file a lawsuit against their employers.