Abrams Fensterman hosts wage enforcement seminar for business owners
The law firm Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara & Wolf, LLP hosted a seminar on wage and hour enforcement for small business owners at its office in MetroTech in Downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday.
The seminar was hosted by Abrams Fensterman partners Sharon P. Stiller and Rachel Demarest Gold, whose two hour talk covered the timeline of labor law in New York state beginning with a shift in 2007 and changes in the laws that affect business owners. They also took questions from business owners in the audience.
“The timeliness of this is particularly important because of the political atmosphere,” Stiller said. “President Trump says that for every new regulation, you have to get rid of two at the federal level. On the other hand, at the state level, we’re seeing even more regulation and you are getting buffeted between the two.”
Demarest Gold explained that one of the biggest things to happen to spur her and Stiller into hosting such a discussion was a recent proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, referred to as Proposal 7, which strengthened the state’s effort to crack down on wage theft. The new legislation would hold LLC members accountable for denying fair wages to employees and will create a 200-member task force to enforce minimum wage increases.
“What is important to know is that this legislation that [Cuomo] is proposing is going to create a situation where more people in your corporate structure are going to be liable for the cost and expenses in lawsuit judgements against you,” Demarest Gold said. “There was a time where the individuals who were protected by an LLC were in fact protected by the LLC and you couldn’t sue them for wage theft.
“As far as state regulators are concerned, if you are not complying with minimum wage and all of the other types of regulations that we are talking about, you are stealing from your workers,” she continued.
Before Demarest Gold fully explained the newer laws and regulations that apply to business owners, Still went back to 2007 and explained the evolution in labor law in New York state so the audience could understand what the government wants to accomplish with its regulations.
“The NYS Department of Labor was a sleeping dog before 2007. If there was a knock on your door, it was more likely to be the federal Department of Labor than the state. In 2007 there was a new commissioner of labor, Patricia Smith, and she entered like a tornado. She created a misclassification task force that conducted sweeps throughout NYS. In 2010 there was a major piece of legislation enacted called the Wage Theft Prevention Act.”
The more recent regulations, Demarest Gold explained, have been a part of the governor’s social justice program. She cautioned that he’s hardly done implementing regulations.
“In addition to the announcement of the task forces, the minimum wage raises and the new legislative proposals, there are conversations going on right now going on about workers compensation reform. They are also negotiating unemployment insurance and working on independent contractor reform.”
The different areas of the law certainly caught the attention of the business owners in the audience, as nearly every single person in the audience asked a question. Some had multiple questions and others were left in disbelief at some regulations.
“It’s gotten to the point where business owners really should consider hiring a labor law attorney to ensure they’re complying with the laws,” Demarest Gold said. “They might not like to pay for it, but by spending a little bit now, they could potentially save themselves thousands on the back end.”
Demarest Gold also suggested that businesses try to work with their local chamber of commerce, and noted that the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce does a lot to help businesses ensure compliance with labor laws. She even suggested that it may make financial sense for groups of businesses to join together to hire attorneys to ensure compliance and even to lobby lawmakers in charge of regulations.
“Government’s regulatory goals are — and should be — keeping things safe and fair for society and competition,” Demarest Gold said. “Such massive responsibility, however, must be measured in the context of those who have to comply, as well as everything else they must get done to keep the lights on and the doors open every day.
“That understanding is often lost in an agency system where thousands of employees are each charged with a small piece of a massive bureaucratic process,” she continued. “It is now our obligation — as the business owners and their representatives — to get that message across to the authorities while we protect our local businesses and workforce.”
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