New Anti-Retaliation and Mediation Units in the New York Department of Labor

On October 14, 2015 Governor Cuomo announced new statewide measures to combat workers exploitation in New York. The measures include additional funding for workers education, as well as “investigations, prosecutions and data collection and compliance efforts.” Mr. Cuomo has also created a new Anti-Retaliation Unit and a Mediation Unit within the State Department of Labor.

The aim of the new units is to combat retaliation practices against workers and employees and to expedite cases of the Task Force’s investigations. According to the Governor, his administration “is taking aggressive steps to protect workers and combat exploitation…”

Governor Cuomo announced the measures at the time of the first public meeting of the Task Force’s advisory committee. The Task Force is currently investigating 30 cases aimed at employers who are allegedly violating child labor laws, underpaying wages and overtime, failing to carry workers compensation insurance, or to contribute to unemployment insurance fund, as well as retaliating against those workers who complain about violations.

The Anti-Retaliation Unit composed of attorneys and investigators will be informing affected employers of the legal and financial consequences of their retaliation practices in order to reserve those practices and obtain “real-time solutions.” The unit will be working in close coordination with all Task Force agencies.

The Mediation Unit will be facilitating negotiations between employers and their employees in order to speed up the process of reaching solutions in disputes on labor violations while the investigation is pending, i.e. before the issuance of an Order to Comply.

The Task Force is described as “the first of-its-kind statewide enforcement effort targeting multiple industries” where workers “are often victims of wage theft and subject to unsafe work conditions, but do not come forward for fear of retaliation.” Those industries, for instance, include restaurants, supermarkets and other retail stores, construction, farming, home health care, janitorial services and others. The Task Force includes more than 10 state agencies, which combine their effort and share information in order to identify employers that violate the law.