Workers who want to report they've been underpaid or mistreated on the job are getting stronger protection against retaliation by their employers under a new state law that goes into effect this week.
The law toughens penalties for employers who go after employees who report violations to the state Department of Labor. The minimum civil penalty against employers has increased from $200 to $2,000. The maximum increases from $1,000 to $10,000.
That bolsters state law that has long prohibited employers from firing, demoting, reassigning or cutting the pay of a worker who files a complaint.
"Every worker in New York is afforded basic protections under state labor law; minimum wage, meal breaks and the right to be paid in a timely manner," Gov. David Paterson said in a statement. "Oftentimes, when workers are not afforded those rights, many are too apprehensive to come forward due to fear of retaliation by their employers. This law will persuade more workers to come forward."
The Labor Department said it had many reports of worker retaliation in the past two years. In one example, three restaurant workers on Long Island were fired for complaining to the agency about making less than minimum wage, and a backstretch worker at the Saratoga Race Course was denied a job he was promised because of his role in the department's investigation of the racing industry. In another case, a supermarket bagger was fired after reporting that he got only tips, no wages at all.
The department said it collected and paid $24.6 million in 2008 to more than 17,000 workers affected by labor law violations.