New York Labor Law

1. Introduction

New York State's laws provide a framework for employment practices to protect and regulate both employers and employees in the state. These laws are designed to ensure fairness in the workplace, covering various aspects such as wages, working hours, leave policies, termination procedures, unemployment benefits, and workplace safety. Employers in New York must adhere to both federal and state regulations, which often provide more generous protections than federal standards.

The labor laws in New York are enforced by the New York State Department of Labor and cover all areas of employer-employee relationships. They apply to almost all private-sector employees in the state, with certain specific provisions for public employees. The laws aim to set minimum requirements for working conditions and to create a level playing field for all workers in New York State.

Understanding New York State law is crucial for both employers and employees to ensure that businesses operate legally and that worker rights are protected. This article aims to provide an overview of key elements of New York State law as they relate to employment, including minimum wage requirements, overtime regulations, and various types of leave. Whether you are an employee seeking to understand your rights or an employer looking to comply with the law, keeping informed about these regulations is essential for fair and legal employment practices.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the specifics of New York State's employment laws, discussing each important aspect in detail. Stay informed to ensure you know your rights and responsibilities within the workplace.

2. Minimum Wage Laws

The minimum wage laws in New York are more generous than the federal minimum wage and vary depending on the employer's location and size. These laws ensure that all workers receive a fair wage for their labor, contributing to the reduction of extreme income inequality. The New York State Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing minimum wage laws.

As of December 31, 2020, the basic minimum hourly wage rates in New York State are as follows:

  • In New York City, the minimum wage is $15.00 per hour for all size businesses.

  • In Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, it's $14.00 per hour.

  • In the remainder of the state, the minimum wage is $12.50 per hour.

It's worth noting that these rates are subject to change every year based on economic conditions and indexes such as the Consumer Price Index. Therefore, employees should make a habit to check recent updates on the New York State Department of Labor's website.

Apart from the basic minimum wage, New York law also allows for a lower wage rate for learners, apprentices, and part-time students. Additionally, there are specific wage regulations for tipped workers in the hospitality industry. For these workers, the minimum wage is lower, but if their tips plus the reduced minimum wage do not amount to the standard minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference.

Any violation of the minimum wage laws is treated seriously by the state. Employees who have been underpaid in violation of the minimum wage laws can recover the underpaid amount, interest, damages, and even attorney's fees in a civil lawsuit or through a complaint filed with the New York State Department of Labor.

It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who asserts their rights under the minimum wage laws, and such retaliation can lead to further penalties.

3. Overtime Regulations

In the state of New York, overtime laws are set by the New York State Department of Labor, which requires employers to pay employees one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. This applies regardless of whether the employee is paid on an hourly, salary, piecework, or commission basis.

There are some exceptions to this rule, including:

  • Nonprofit making institutions;

  • Federal, state, and municipal governments;

  • Individuals employed as farm laborers;

  • Individuals working in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity;

  • Outside salespeople.

Employers are required to keep accurate records of the hours each employee works, and these records must be available for inspection by the New York State Department of Labor.

As with minimum wage laws, any violation of overtime laws is viewed seriously by the state. Employees who do not receive the proper overtime pay can recover their unpaid overtime, interest, damages, and even attorney’s fees through a civil lawsuit or a complaint filed with the New York State Department of Labor.

It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who asserts their rights under the overtime laws, and this retaliation may lead to further penalties against the employer.

Unlike the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), New York State does not have a provision allowing employees to refuse to work more than 40 hours in a week. However, employees who do work more than 40 hours in a week must be compensated at the overtime rate, unless they fall into one of the exceptions listed above.

4. Vacation Leave

In New York State, employers are not legally required to offer vacation leave, paid or unpaid, to their employees. However, should an employer choose to provide such a benefit, it is regulated by terms in the employment contract or company policy.

Once granted, employers have the right to control certain aspects of vacation leave, such as:

  • The amount of vacation time employees are entitled to each year.

  • Whether vacation time may be carried over from one year to the next.

  • Whether unused vacation time is payable upon termination of employment.

However, these rules must be clearly communicated to the employees and applied consistently and non-discriminatorily.

It's also worth noting that if an employer promises vacation pay, it will usually be considered a form of wage under the New York Labor Law. Therefore, withholding vacation pay can lead to legal penalties similar to wage theft. Also, any changes to vacation policies cannot be retroactive and cannot deprive an employee of earned vacation time.

Though vacation leave isn't mandatory in New York, offering such benefits can be a useful tool for attracting and retaining skilled employees. Despite this, it’s essential for both employers and employees to understand their rights and obligations when it comes to vacation leave to avoid potential employment disputes.

5. Sick Leave

In New York State, as of September 30, 2020, all private sector workers have the right to sick leave. The amount of sick leave an employee is entitled to depends on the size and annual income of the employer.

Under the Sick Leave Law, employers with:

  • 100 or more employees must provide up to seven days (56 hours) of paid sick leave per year.

  • Between five and 99 employees must provide up to five days (40 hours) of paid sick leave per year.

  • Four or fewer employees and a net income of $1 million or more must provide up to five days (40 hours) of paid sick leave per year.

  • Four or fewer employees and a net income of less than $1 million are required to provide up to five days (40 hours) of unpaid sick leave per year.

The accrued sick leave can be used by employees for:

  • Diagnosis, care, or treatment of their own mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition.

  • Regular health check-ups and preventive care.

  • Caring for a family member diagnosed with a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition or who needs preventive care or diagnosis, including preparing for and recovering from childbirth.

  • Addressing issues related to domestic violence, sexual offence, stalking, or human trafficking suffered by the employee or their family member.

Employers are not permitted to retaliate against workers who request or use sick leave. Furthermore, employers cannot require disclosure of confidential health information as a condition for providing sick leave.

Unused sick leave can be carried over to the following calendar year. However, employers can limit the use of sick leave to the maximum amounts stated above (seven or five days) per year.

Unlike some states, New York doesn't have a use it or lose it" law, which means employers are not allowed to establish a policy that forces employees to use their accumulated sick leave by a certain date or lose it. However, employers are not required to pay an employee for unused sick leave upon their termination, resignation, retirement, or other separation from employment.

6. Holiday Leave

In New York State, employers are not required by law to give their employees any holiday leave, whether paid or unpaid. They aren't obligated to pay employees extra for working on a holiday, nor are they required to give employees the day off for any given holiday.

However, many employers do choose to offer holiday leave as a benefit. This can be a tool to attract and retain quality employees and boost morale. When employers choose to provide holiday leave, they have much discretion in setting these policies. They can decide:

  • Which holidays to observe.

  • Whether holiday leave will be paid or unpaid.

  • Whether working on a holiday will result in premium pay.

  • Whether certain employees, such as part-timers or temps, will receive holiday leave.

Employers must apply these policies consistently and without discrimination. They also should clearly communicate holiday policies to all employees.

Similarly, if an employer promises holiday pay, it is often considered a form of wage under the New York Labor Law. Therefore, withholding promised holiday pay may lead to legal penalties similar to wage theft.

While employers have a lot of leeway in terms of holiday leave, they are restricted when it comes to religious holidays. Under state and federal laws, New York employers must accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. This includes providing reasonable time off for religious observance, unless it cannot be accommodated without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business.

If an employee feels they have been discriminated against due to their religious beliefs, or that their employer has not adequately accommodated their religious observance, they can file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights or with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In summary, while there is no statutory requirement for employers to offer holiday leave in New York, a well-designed and properly implemented holiday policy can help to create a positive workplace environment. However, employers must be mindful of their obligations under state and federal laws to accommodate employees' religious observances.

7. Breaks

In New York State, break laws require employers to provide employees with meal breaks. However, there is no requirement for rest breaks or coffee breaks during the workday.

According to the New York State Department of Labor, an employee is entitled to a meal break dependent on the number of hours they work:

  • Employees must receive a half-hour meal break between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM for shifts that span more than six hours starting before 11:00 AM and continuing until 2:00 PM.

  • Employees who work a shift of more than six hours starting between 1:00 PM and 6:00 AM should receive a mid-shift meal break.

  • Employees working a shift of more than six hours that starts between 6:00 AM and 1:00 PM are entitled to a second meal break at some time after the end of the shift's sixth hour.

These meal periods do not count as paid work time, so it's common for employees to be relieved of all job duties during their meal breaks. If an employee is required to work or stay at their workstation during their meal period, this time should be counted as work time and be compensated.

The law specifies these are minimum requirements and employers can offer longer meal periods. Similarly, though the law does not mandate shorter rest breaks, many employers choose to provide these. If short breaks are offered, they are usually considered part of the workday for which compensation must be provided.

Unlike some states, New York does not have requirements for additional breaks for minors or younger workers. The standards are the same regardless of the age of the employee.

If an employer violates these provisions, employees have the right to file a complaint with the New York State Department of Labor. It's illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who asserts their rights regarding meal breaks.

In summary, though New York does not provide for rest or coffee breaks, meal breaks are mandated by law. Understanding these requirements is crucial for both employers and employees to ensure compliance with the law and maintain a healthy work environment.

8. Employment Termination Laws

New York is an “at-will” employment state. This means, in general, an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, or no reason at all, so long as the termination is not discriminatory or retaliatory in nature.

While employers generally have broad discretion, there are significant exceptions to this rule. For instance, New York State law prohibits terminating an employee for reasons that contravene public policy. This includes firing someone for:

  • Filing a workers' compensation claim

  • Making a complaint about overtime pay or minimum wage

  • Reporting illegal activities in the workplace (whistleblowing)

  • Exercising a right that public policy encourages, such as voting

Protections also exist for employees who are part of a union, those who have a written employment contract, or workers subject to a collective bargaining agreement. In these cases, termination often requires "just cause" and typically involves an established process.

The New York State Human Rights Law prohibits employers from terminating an employee based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, marital status, or domestic violence victim status. It applies to all employers in New York State, in both private and public sectors.

New York Labor Law 201-d also restricts employers from discharging or refusing to hire an individual because of their political activities, legal use of consumable products outside work hours and off of the employer's premises and policies, membership in a union, or recreational activities outside work hours, off of the employer's premises and without use of the employer's equipment or other property.

In terms of notice, while the federal WARN Act requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide a 60-day notice in the event of a mass layoff or closing, New York’s WARN Act goes further. It requires employers with 50 or more employees to give a 90-day notice.

Severance pay is not required under New York law except if it is promised in an employer plan or policy. However, employers are required to issue a final paycheck to terminated employees by the regular payday for the pay period worked. This should include payment for any unused, accrued vacation time if the company policy or employee contract allows for such payouts.

In conclusion, while New York's employment termination laws give employers considerable latitude in terminating employment relationships, they also provide significant protections. Both employers and employees must understand these rules to protect their rights and interests.

9. Unemployment Rights

In New York State, unemployment insurance benefits are intended for individuals who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. As part of the state's effort to support its citizens in times of unemployment downturns, these benefits provide temporary financial assistance to eligible workers. The handling of unemployment rights in New York State is established by the state law which sets guidelines for eligibility, benefit amounts, and the length of time benefits can be collected.

The following aspects are crucial to understanding the unemployment rights in New York State:

  • Eligibility: In order to qualify for benefits, a person must have worked recently during a specified period referred to as the "base period." Besides, they must not have lost their job due to misconduct, and must be actively seeking work.

  • Benefit Amounts: The amount of unemployment insurance benefits one can receive is determined based on the person's earnings during the base period. The formula used to calculate this amount is established by the New York State Department of Labor.

  • Duration of Benefits: In general, eligible workers can receive unemployment benefits up to a maximum of 26 weeks. However, during times of high unemployment rates, extended benefits may be available.

  • Claiming Benefits: To initiate a claim, an individual should apply to the New York State Department of Labor. This can be done online, by phone, or via mail. Upon receipt of a claim, the Department will determine the individual's eligibility.

  • Appeal Rights: If a claim for benefits is denied, the individual has the right to appeal the decision. The first step in the appeal process is to request a hearing before an administrative law judge.

It is important to note that while collecting unemployment benefits, individuals are required by New York state law to continually search for new employment and to accept any suitable work offer they receive. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in disqualification from receiving benefits.

In conclusion, unemployment rights in New York State adequately protect the welfare of its workers during periods of job loss, and these rights are enshrined under state law. This underscores the state's intention to ensure that its citizens are secure in the face of unemployment challenges.

10. Workplace Safety

The safety of workers in the workplace is a critical concern under New York State law. The state has enacted several laws and established agencies to ensure that employers offer a safe working environment to all employees, free from health hazards and risks.

Generally, workplace safety laws are governed by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which has federal and state components. However, New York has also implemented additional laws that complement OSHA and provide extensive protection for specific industries and situations.

Occupational Safety and Health Regulations

Under OSHA, employers in New York State are expected to follow guidelines intended to reduce occupational diseases, injuries, and fatalities. They are required to provide essential training, conduct regular risk assessments, and maintain a secure working environment.

New York State-Specific Safety Laws

In addition to the federal framework provided by OSHA, New York State has established several specific laws to enhance the safety of workers, such as:

  • Industrial Code Rule 23: This rule requires construction contractors and owners to take steps to safeguard their workers from risks that might lead to injury or death.

  • New York State Labor Law 241: This law outlines strict safety requirements for areas undergoing construction, excavation, and demolition work.

  • New York Workers’ Compensation Law: Under this law, employers are required to carry worker's compensation insurance to financially protect workers in case of work-related illnesses or injuries.

New York State Department of Labor Division of Safety and Health

The New York State Department of Labor Division of Safety and Health (DOSH) is primarily responsible for promoting safe and healthy workplaces in the state. The division enforces safety standards, provides educational resources, conducts inspections to ensure employer compliance, and responds to employee complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

Employees who believe their employers are violating safety laws can file a complaint with DOSH or OSHA. Reprisals against employees for filing complaints or attempting to exercise their rights under workplace safety laws are strictly prohibited by law.

In conclusion, New York State places a high emphasis on the safety of workers in their workplaces. The state not only adheres to federal OSHA guidelines but also has state-specific laws that serve to further protect its workforce.