On August 26, 2009, Governor David Paterson signed into law a bill (A6963) which expands and strengthens the penalties against employers for violations of state wage and hour payment laws. First, the bill amends Sections 198(1-a) and 663(1) and (2) of the Labor Law to specifically allow the Commissioner of Labor to bring an administrative action (as opposed to solely a court action) on behalf of employees for violations of state wage payment laws. The amendment also entitles the Commissioner and the courts to assess against the employer liquidated damages (in the amount of 25% of the total wages found due) whenever an employer is found to have failed to pay wages due, unless the employer can prove it had a good faith basis to believe that its underpayment of wages was in compliance with the law. The law previously required employees to prove their employer willfully underpaid their wages in order to recover these liquidated damages.

The bill also amends Section 215(1) of the Labor Law to expand the categories of employee conduct protected from wage and hour-related retaliation to now include: 1) providing information to the Commissioner of Labor or the Commissioner’s authorized representative; 2) exercising rights protected under that chapter; or 3) receiving an employer-adverse determination from the Commission involving that employee. The bill also increases the minimum penalty the Commissioner can assess for such retaliation from $200 to $1,000, the maximum penalty from $2,000 to $10,000, and for the first time also allows the Commissioner to order the employer to pay lost compensation to an employee victimized by such retaliation. The bill also expands liability for such retaliation to limited liability companies and partnerships.

The new law goes into effect on November 24, 2009.