Many New York employers try to evade their obligations to pay overtime wages to employees who work more than 40 hours per week. To help protect workers, New York State's Wage Theft Prevention Act (WTPA) requires all employers to provide wage statements listing all payments made, the rate and basis of pay, and any allowances or deductions permitted by law. An employer can be fined up to $5,000 per employee for failing to comply with these wage statement requirements.
Business Owner Held Personally Liable for Falsifying Wage Records
What happens when an employer simply provides false information on a wage statement? A federal judge in Brooklyn recently addressed this question as part of a larger case involving unpaid overtime wages. The plaintiffs worked for the defendant, a landscaping company.
There was no dispute the defendant failed to pay legally mandated overtime wages. The defendant's sole owner and operator admitted as much under oath during a pretrial deposition. On top of that, the U.S. Department of Labor opened its own separate investigation into the defendant's business and found he had failed to pay any overtime–i.e., employees were paid the same rate for all hours worked, even when they exceeded 40 per workweek.
More egregiously, the Labor Department concluded the defendant “falsified its time and payroll records to make it appear as if its employees were paid overtime wages.” As a result, the pay stubs and wage statements received by employees contained inaccurate information.
Based on all this, the judge granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs on their claims under federal and state overtime laws. The judge also found the defendant's owner personally liable under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This means the plaintiffs are not limited to recovering damages solely against the defendant's business entity; the owner is “jointly and severally” liable for the entire judgment.
The FLSA also permits employees to seek “liquidated damages” against an employer who fails to properly pay overtime wages. Liquidated damages are designed to compensate the employees for the “delay in receiving wages due caused by the employer's violation of the FLSA,” according to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Normally, an employee has the right to liquidated damages upon establishing a FLSA violation unless the employer can present evidence that its failure was made in “good faith,” i.e. it was an honest mistake rather than willful misconduct. That was obviously not the case here, the judge said, so the plaintiffs were entitled to liquidated damages.
Finally, the judge noted that “[i]t is not clearly settled in this district” whether an employer is liable under the Wage Theft Prevention Act for falsifying a wage statement, as opposed to not providing one at all. But following a ruling by another federal judge in a related case, the court decided here that “inaccurate time records” fell within the scope of the WTPA and said the plaintiffs were entitled to additional damages.
Need Help From a New York Wage and Hour Claims Attorney?
Failure to pay wages is not a minor matter. It is wage theft, pure and simple, and no employer should be allowed to avoid their legal responsibility pay their workers. If you have a wage and hour dispute with your employer, you need to work with an experienced New York employment law attorney who will fight for your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar if you need to speak with a lawyer today.