Over 7 million people work in private sector jobs in New York, making it an attractive place to launch and run a business. With a growing workforce and active economy, New York City remains a top city for job growth, but Westchester, Fort Drum, and Kingston are now growing more quickly than ever. With the mix of skilled workers and growing immigrant populations in the state, it’s no surprise how popular New York State has become for new businesses.
Still, New York has legislated relatively strong worker protections that even apply to small businesses. If you even have only a single employee, you may already be subject to New York labor laws. From the first day you begin operations, you must know what employment laws will apply to your company and industry. It may help to discuss these issues with a New York employment lawyer from Priori Legal's on-demand, vetted marketplace early on to avoid costly potential problems later.
Many employment laws in New York are intended to protect workers from injury or harassment on the job. Worker protections are strong, and violations can be prosecuted harshly. Any small businesses in New York should be careful to review the laws related to worker protections in order to ensure compliance.
New York Workers’ Compensation Law
Even if you only have a single privately employed employee in New York, your company is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Most companies choose to contract for worker’s compensation through private carriers approved by the New York Workers’ Compensation Board or self-certification (although this can be costly if you ever have an employee who files a claim). After you have obtained workers’ comp insurance, you must a post a Form Notice of Compliance - Workers' Compensation Law (C-105) clearly for employees in the workplace. This form can be obtained from your carrier or the Board.
If an employee is injured on the job, they have the right to compensation for treatment, as well as a certain number of paid days off under New York workers’ compensation laws. As an employer, you are required to give appropriate time of for any recovery time and treatments approved through a workers’ compensation claim.
Workplace Health and Safety
New York employers must comply with all federal health and safety regulations established by OSHA, as well as state level requirements established by the Worker Protection Bureau Division of Safety and Health. No employers are exempt from OSHA requirements in New York due to the the PESH Act and other state laws that extend its reach. Each company must determine which unique health and safety standards apply to their industry, area and size of company.
Every private company is expected to pay into unemployment insurance for each employee. In addition, federal law requires companies with at least 20 employees to be offered continued health insurance coverage under COBRA. In New York, mini-COBRA extends this coverage to all employees of small businesses with fewer than 20 employees.
These post-employment benefits can be expensive for companies, which is why the state has created a Shared Work program to allow companies to temporarily lay off workers without dismissing them completely. If you want to avoid laying off employees during difficult business cycles, this may be an attractive and slightly less expensive option.
Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Laws
Workplace discrimination and harassment based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, martial status, or other protected class is illegal in New York. All companies with at least four employees must have procedures in place to stop and punish such discrimination, including training employees on what behaviors could be considered harassment. If a company is negligent in acting against such harassment, employees may be entitled to sue. All New York companies should take such accusations seriously. Employees who feel that they are being treated unfairly have the option to bring a case with the New York Division of Human Rights or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
New York Wage Laws
The current minimum wage in New York ($9.00/hr) is higher than the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hr) established in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Tipped workers can receive a slightly lower hourly wage at $7.50 statewide, so long as they are compensated up to the minimum wage on an average shift.
Overtime procedures are the same in New York as established federally. Salaried workers have no claim to overtime, but hourly workers are compensated at one and a half times their normal hourly rate for any overtime. Any hours beyond 40 hours perk must be considered overtime.
Neither federal nor New York law mandates any paid leave, but employees are entitled to unpaid leave for qualified emergencies or situations covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers with at least 50 employees must provide 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave per year for qualified medical and family reasons, such as personal or family illness, family military leave, pregnancy, and adoption. Employees are also entitled to two hours of leave on election day to vote. Many companies in New York provide some paid leave for employees regardless.
At-Will vs. Union Employment
All jobs in New York are assumed to be “at-will” employment unless stated otherwise in an employment contract. This means that both employers and employees are free to terminate the relationship at any time for any reason. Generally, the only jobs that are not at-will in New York are unionized, which require high standards to be met before firing a worker. Because requiring union membership is legal in New York for certain professions, unions have significant power over employers, so all termination procedures should be strictly followed. Even at-will employees cannot be terminated for illegal reasons—and companies should be aware of issues that could trigger a wrongful termination lawsuit.
What if I’m a victim of wage theft?
Wage theft is a serious crime in New York that is being punished with increasing harshness. If you believe you are a victim of wage theft, you can file a report with the New York Division of Labor Standards.
If I report my employer for violating New York labor or criminal law, can I be fired?
No. New York whistleblower laws should protect you from losing your job in retaliation for reporting any illegal activity—whether related to OSHA regulations, public safety laws, or even labor law.
Do certain places in New York have stronger employment laws?
Labor laws are mostly the same no matter where you are located in New York. Although the minimum wage in New York City, Long Island and Westchester is slightly higher than the rest of the state, other regulations and restrictions in employment law are (generally) the same across the state. Whether you are in Buffalo, Albany, or Manhattan, you will face the same standards for workplace stately and worker treatment. If you are concerned about the differences in employment law that may affect you in your city, it may help to speak with a New York employment lawyer.