New York City D.A. Wants to Prosecute Wage Theft as a Crime

On February 16, 2023, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. announced that his office has partnered with the New York State Department of Labor and local law enforcement to create the “Worker Protection Unit” and “Stolen Wages Fund.” The newly created Worker Protection Unit will focus on pursuing criminal charges against companies and individual executives and managers who deprive (or “steal”) wages from their workers. The Stolen Wage Fund will seek to compensate alleged victims of wage theft who cannot be adequately compensated through civil or criminal actions against the employer.

D.A. Bragg said the initiative will combat wage theft that he believes continues to plague New York City workers, particularly the most vulnerable low-income and undocumented workers.  He pledged to punish employers that exploit these workers by “stealing” their wages or jeopardizing their safety in the workplace.

An employer who engages in wage theft could face charges of larceny (property theft) and be prohibited from receiving future New York City contracts. In a related development, recently introduced Senate Bill S2832 sponsored by State Senator Neil D. Breslin (D), would amend New York State’s Grand Larceny laws to add “wage theft” to the list of activities included in the crime of larceny.  The bill is currently in the Senate Committee for approval. If passed, the bill would go into effect immediately.

At this time, it is not entirely clear how the District Attorney’s office defines “wage theft” or “stealing wages” that would subject an employer to prosecution. Among the open questions is whether an employer must act willfully or purposely in depriving employees of their wages to be prosecuted. It is also unclear whether the Worker Protection Unit will consider prosecutions for unfair treatment of independent contractors performing work in New York or of out-of-state employers with employees located in New York.

Littler will continue to track developments on the Manhattan D.A.’s Worker Protection Unit and Stolen Wages Fund.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.