Today’s New York employment law landscape is increasingly dynamic, with a constant stream of new legislation and judicial opinions. To keep our readers current on the latest happenings, we will share regular summaries of recent developments affecting Empire State employers. Here’s what happened in January 2015:
Proposal to Eliminate Tip Credit Voted Down
On January 8, a wage board convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to examine the state’s current tip credit structure rejected a proposal to eliminate the credit. The tip credit, critical to many hospitality industry employers, permits businesses to pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage, provided that the employees earn enough gratuities to cover the difference. The wage board has scheduled further meetings and hearings given the failed proposal. We anticipate that the board will report recommended changes, if any, to the current tip credit structure within the next few months.
Legislature Introduces Bill to Clarify Wage Theft Amendment
In June, we reported about a bill passed by the New York State Legislature that proposed significant changes to the state’s labor laws. Among other things, the bill eliminated the requirement that employers furnish annual wage notices to employees between January 1 and February 1. When the governor finally signed the bill December 29, 2014, he noted that it contained several “technical and substantive problems which the Legislature has agreed to address in additional legislation.”
Soon thereafter, on January 8, the legislature introduced the “additional legislation.” As the Governor alluded, it makes only ministerial corrections to the June bill. Perhaps most notable, it eliminates the newly created Wage Theft Prevention Enforcement Account, which was intended to offset the costs of enforcing the labor law with fines collected by the New York State Department of Labor. The June bill takes effect February 27, 2015, as will most of the provisions of the clarifying bill.
State Anti-Discrimination Law Bars Discrimination by Association
On January 14, a state appellate court permitted plaintiff Jeffrey Chiara to proceed with his claim of religious discrimination by association. Chiara alleged that his co-workers subjected him to anti-Semitic remarks throughout his employment. Chiara himself, however, is not Jewish, but is instead married to a Jewish woman. He therefore is not a member of the protected class at issue.
In a case of first impression, the court nevertheless held that the New York State Human Rights Law authorizes an individual to assert a claim for discrimination based upon his/her association with a member of a protected class (here, Chiara’s Jewish wife). In other words, the law not only prohibits discrimination against employees based upon the employees’ own protected characteristic(s) (e.g., age, gender, religion, disability), but also based upon the protected characteristics of individuals with whom the employees associate.
Federal Court Hears Argument in Intern Lawsuits
On January 30, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in tandem appeals regarding the permissibility of company-sponsored unpaid internship programs. The court’s decision, due later this year, is expected to delineate when (if ever) a company must pay student (and other) interns. The court may also clarify whether and to what extent federal courts should defer to policy positions of the United States Department of Labor on this issue. A favorable decision for the interns will inevitably lead to a slew of new lawsuits.