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Employers start implementing state’s wage-notification law

By Journal Staff

Date:

Under the new state Wage Theft protection Act (WTPA), employers across New York have from Jan. 1 to Feb. 1 to deliver wage notices to all their employees.

“It’s not a new requirement,” says Lesley Frey, director of human resources at Binghamton–based Columbian Financial Group, which has a Syracuse–area office.  Rather, it’s an expansion (voted into law last April) of a previous requirement to provide wage notices to new hires.

The notice must include the employees’ wage rate, the basis of the rate (hourly or salaried), and the name, address, and phone number of the employer.

Under the new law, employers must continue to provide that information to new hires, but must also provide that information annually by Feb. 1. 

With nearly $1 billion a year in unpaid wages to New York workers, Thomas Surowka, chief marketing officer at benefits-provider United Advisors in Endwell, says the need for the law is apparent. The average worker in New York loses out on about $2,600 every year in wages they should have been paid, but weren’t, he says.

Surowka doubts that employers are intentionally underpaying their workers. Rather, he says, it’s likely a result of the increasingly complicated wage laws that dictate overtime rates, meal breaks, and just about everything else.

“I think most small businesses just aren’t aware of everything they need to provide,” he says.

However, the new law does create a new burden for employers, particularly smaller owner-operators who are likely more concerned with the day-to-day running of their businesses and don’t keep on top of all the human-resources requirements the state and federal governments adopt.

“I think the key is having qualified advisers and counsel you can call on,” Surowka says.

That could be particularly handy with this new law, Frey says, because of the delivery requirements. The notice must be delivered to workers in their primary language and employers must receive back a receipt of delivery.

Inserting the notices in with pay stubs is a good option for many companies, Frey says, but not for her employer, which no longer prints and provides pay stubs. Columbian Financial employees, she says, can access pay stubs online through a company portal.

Some employers may consider delivering the notices electronically with a receipt notification, she says, “but for many employers who don’t have employees who sit at desks … that may not be a simple thing.”

“This could be a real project,” she says of delivering the notices.

Surowka says the increasing complexity of complying with state laws like this new one will likely lead more businesses, particularly small businesses, to farm out these services.

“I think you’re going to find payroll companies … are going to see a growth in services,” he says.

Hiring an outside expert is a great option, he says, but he cautions employers not to hire a consultant and then forget all about the requirement. Ultimately, it is still the employer’s responsibility to make sure the company is in compliance, so it should keep as up to date as it can on the requirements and how its consultants are going to meet those requirements.

“It’s incumbent on the owner to have familiarity with the compliance process,” he says.

Business owners should also keep in mind the penalties for non-compliance, which can add up quickly, Surowka says. Failure to provide the notice subjects employers to a potential penalty of $50 per worker, per week, and non-notified workers can sue the employer for up to $2,500. In addition, whistleblower protections built into the law mean that if an employer retaliates against employees for notifying the state that they didn’t receive the notice, employers could face a fine of $10,000 plus another $10,000 in damages.

In spite of the penalties and the extra work required to comply with the law, Surowka says he thinks it’s a good idea and will help the 75 percent of workers who aren’t paid proper overtime.

“It’s a step in the right direction to protect workers,” he says.

Complete information about the law and suggested notification templates are available online at www.labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/laborstandards/workprot/lshmpg.shtm.

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