Minimum wage

Home Attendant Case Stays in Court

Beranbaum Menken LLP is at the forefront of the fight to get home health aides who work 24 hour shifts all the wages they are entitled to by law.  Many home care agencies pay their aides a flat rate for a 24 hour shift which is less than the minimum wage.  Even if a union’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) endorses this practice, it is still against the law. Despite this, some agencies try to avoid responsibility for underpaying their workers by asking the court to dismiss the case because of the CBA.  Beranbaum Menken recently prevailed on this issue in Brooklyn Supreme Court, where Justice Nancy Bannon denied a motion by Project O.H.R. to dismiss a case seeking pay for 24 hour shifts.  Project OHR had unsuccessfully argued in another case that the CBA required a home attendant’s lawsuit be dismissed; Justice Bannon held that since OHR made the argument once and lost, it couldn’t try it again in a different case. The case will proceed on the home attendant’s claims that if you work 24 hours, you should be paid for 24 hours.

Building Superintendents and New York Wage and Hour Law: A Forgotten Profession

New York's wage and hour law contains some of the broadest wage payment regulations in the nation, but unfortunately one particular class of workers is currently falling virtually completely through the cracks.  Under the New York Labor Law's supporting regulations, which provide the applicable minimum wage rates in effect in the state, residential building superintendents (or, as the regulations refer to them, "janitors,") are engaged in the only profession categorically excluded from the protection of New York's federal-law-trumping hourly minimum wage rates.  Given that this is an ubiquitous, low-paying profession, particularly in New York City, and one engaged to a significant degree by immigrants -- who often speak limited English -- and other at-risk worker populations, this is a troubling loophole indeed. Under the minimum wage orders contained in the Labor Law's supporting regulations, most employees are currently entitled to $8.75 per hour (N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 12, § 142-2.1) and one and one half times their regular rates in overtime pay for hours worked over 40 per week (N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 12, § 142-2.2).  This is a significant, material improvement on the federal minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25 per hour.

Unfortunately, residential building superintendents have no access to this additional state law premium, and must resort to less-expansive federal wage and hour law for any hour-based claims.  Rather than requiring building superintendents in residential buildings to be paid a minimum hourly rate, the applicable minimum wage order requires only that these employees be paid a minimum weekly rate derived from the number of units in the building in which they work.  Currently, a residential building superintendent must be paid $5.85 per building unit per week.  The overtime provision of the New York building service industry minimum wage order specifically excludes building superintendents from its coverage (N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 12, § 141-1.4).

In addition to normal workday hours, New York City residential building superintendents are frequently also required to field resident inquiries and address issues or incidents within their buildings during evening hours.  Some are even subjected to harsh, 24-hour on-call requirements by their employers.  The average apartment building in New York City has around 20 units, but despite this potential for round-the-clock work, a superintendent working in such a building is entitled to only $117 per week under New York law.  Even superintendents in large buildings are unprotected, as this unit rate is capped at just $372.15 per week (N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 12, § 141-2.8).

Fortunately, although they are robbed of New York's extra protections, New York building superintendents are not completely without minimum hourly or overtime wage recourse thanks to the Federal Labor Standards Act ("FLSA").  In a lawsuit recently filed in federal court, Bahena et al. v. Park Avenue South Management LLC et al., Beranbaum Menken LLP is representing four current and former underpaid New York City building superintendents in a putative collective action seeking recovery for all similarly situated employees.  Despite being subject to harsh on-call requirements that compel them to work very significant "overtime" hours, these employees receive only a few hundred dollars for all their work each week.  Although New York's seriously deficient wage order leaves them no recourse, the FLSA guarantees these workers at least $7.25 per regular and $10.88 per overtime hour, and Beranbaum Menken is working hard to see that these rights are vindicated.

 

Home Attendant Minimum Wage Class Action Certified

Beranbaum Menken is representing numerous home attendants who were not paid the minimum wage for each hour of their 24 hour shifts.  Our clients work an important and difficult job, caring for the aged and infirm in their homes, and they deserve to at least be paid for the hours they work. Yesterday, Justice Demarest in Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn recognized this, and granted our motion to certify the case as a class action in Andryeyeva v. New York Health Care, Index No. 14309/2011.  The court rejected the employer's argument that it need not pay our clients for each hour of their 24 hour shifts, because they allegedly had the opportunity to eat and sleep at night.  Aside from being factually untrue - patients are not given 24 hour home attendant care, unless they need help 24 hours a day - this argument ignores the fact that under New York law, if an employee is required to be at a certain location, ready to work when needed, that employee must be paid for all of those hours.  Click here to read the decision.

Raising the Bar for NY Employees: Minimum Wage Hike

New York’s minimum wage increased from $7.25 to $8 per hour on December 31, 2013. This is the first of three increases approved by the state legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo when they approved the state budget in March. That may not seem like a lot, but that can easily add up to over $1,500/year, even without overtime. And, of course, an increase in the minimum wage means an increase in the overtime pay rate for those who qualify. The new legislation also has future minimum wage hikes built into it – going from $8 to $8.75 at the end of 2014, and then up again to $9 by December 31, 2015. New York joins the ranks of thirteen other states raising the minimum wage this year, some to as high as $9.32 (in Washington state). This all comes on the heels of President Obama’s call for a national raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015.

Unfortunately, many people making minimum wage still live in poverty, and are forced to on public assistance.

We should also keep in mind that an $8 or $9 minimum wage is certainly higher than the current federal minimum, it falls  off historical numbers. In 1960, for example, the minimum wage was 47% of the median wage of U.S. full-time workers. Today, the minimum wage is 37% of the minimum wage. While any increase in the minimum wage is welcome and necessary, the reality is that real wages for the lowest paid Americans have been steadily declining over the past four decades.

Unpaid intern not protected from sexual harassment - but was she really an employee?

In Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US, Judge Castel in the Southern District of New York held that an unpaid intern has no protection from sexual harassment under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). The plaintiff in that case was a masters’ degree student at Syracuse University who was hired as an intern for Phoenix, a company producing Chinese language news. She alleged that her supervisor sexually harassed her and denied her a permanent job when she refused his sexual advances. Judge Castel held that Ms. Wang could assert her claim relating to Phoenix’s failure to hire her, but dismissed her claim for sexual harassment, holding that because Ms. Wang was not being paid, she was not an employee, and therefore not protected by the NYCHRL.The Human Rights Law does not define “employee,” and is silent on whether it includes unpaid interns. However, the court’s decision does not address whether the plaintiff should have been paid, and if so, whether that would make her an “employee” under the NYCHRL. Ms. Wang didn’t argue that she was, and did not bring a minimum wage or overtime claim. But the facts of the case may have supported such a claim. According to Ms. Wang’s complaint, her duties included assisting the reporters with shooting news footage, drafting scripts, and editing video footage. She also scripted and reported her own stories on-camera. From this description, it seems that Phoenix was violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law by not paying Ms. Wang for her work. For an internship program to be legal, the Department of Labor sets forth a six factor test, each of which must be met: 1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf . If Ms. Wang was actually performing the duties of a reporter, the internship would not pass factors 3 and 4. Presumably, if Ms. Wang didn’t script and report on her stories, a regular employee would have. Interns are not supposed to be an unpaid replacement for another employee, and an internship is not to be an unpaid, months-long trial employment. The persistence of these arrangements both unjustly enriches employers, and forecloses entire fields of employment from people who cannot afford to work for free. Ms. Wang should be entitled to be free from sexual harassment – she should also be paid for her work.

Finally! DOL Gives Home Health Aides Minimum Wage and Overtime Protections

  For decades, home health aides – those who provide care to elderly and disabled patients in their homes – have been excluded from our national minimum wage and overtime laws, allowing staffing companies to pay these workers pennies on the dollar, including for grueling 24-hour shifts. This is all about to change, as the Department of Labor announced today that these workers will finally be treated with the respect they deserve.

 

These workers had been purposefully excluded from the law by the so-called “companionship exemption.” The exemption was initially intended to allow people to hire, say, the local neighborhood teenager to babysit without having to pay the minimum wage. However, the term “companion” was expanded to include home health aides, as though the invaluable service they provide – feeding, preparing meals, cleaning, changing bedsheets, administering medicine – were little more than “companionship.” The reality is, though, that millions of Americans are attempting to support entire families on the income of a home health aide. Now they have a fighting chance to do so.

 

Read more about this momentous development here:

 

 

 

Employers Protect Themselves with Arbitration Proceedings, SCOTUS helps

The spate of recent Supreme Court rulings against employees are already trickling down through the federal courts. Following the Supreme Court’s lead in AmEx v. Italian Colors, the Second Circuit held that an arbitration clause that prevents employees from bringing class actions was binding and not against public policy, despite the fact that such arbitration clauses pretty much guarantee that employees cannot enforce their rights. When new employees start working, they often sign reams of paperwork, much of which they may not understand. Recently, employers have been including language preventing people from bringing class action lawsuits, or even class action arbitrations, against their employers. What this means is that someone, like Ms. Sutherland in this case, whose overtime rights have been violated to the tune of $1,867 simply cannot find a lawyer to take her case. If she brings a case individually all the way through arbitration, she could end up paying 100 times what she’s owed. But lawyers can’t work for free. The result is that many people with small claims can bring suits together, or they can represent everyone all at once (in a class action). This way the lawyer is paid as a percentage of what she recovers for everyone, spreading the cost around and allowing people to protect themselves from these kinds of violations.

After all, $1,867 is a lot of money to most people. And if an employer, like Ernst & Young in this case, are violating a lot of people’s right to $1,867 in overtime, then the employer may be stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of wages in from their employees.

Now, thanks to the Court’s decision in AmEx v. Italian Colors, they can continue to steal their employees’ wages with impunity. As long as the employer's actions only cost the employee a little less than the cost of hiring a private lawyer, the employer knows full well that they’re in the clear. No one can afford to bring a lawsuit, and so long as they can convince new employees to sign on the dotted line, they can prevent employees from pooling their resources and suing together. And what new employee has the power to refuse to sign a document?

The good news is that not all arbitration agreements are binding, and not all employees are helpless to negotiate. At the very least, if you face the prospect of signing an arbitration agreement that doesn’t sound right to you or your employer is threatening to hold you to an agreement that you've already signed, consult a lawyer.

Prevailing Wages Continue to Go Unpaid

New York law requires that employees who do construction, repair, service or maintenance work on public job sites (like state- or city- owned buildings such as schools, prisons, public housing developments and public hospitals) must be paid a higher-than-minimum wage (sometimes as much as $75/hour). They also must either receive health benefits or be paid an hourly supplemental benefits rate. This ensures that private contractors can’t undermine union workers by paying less than union wages. However, many non-unionized employees aren’t aware of these laws, and employers exploit that fact by paying them less than they’re owed. Beranbaum Menken aggressively litigates prevailing wage cases in New York and throughout the country. We are one of the leading firms in this area, with years of experience and specialized knowledge.

Beranbaum Menken recently reached a $5.5 million settlement on behalf of a class of nearly 500 New York state and city fire alarm and sprinkler technicians at Simplex Grinnell LP, the largest fire alarm and sprinkler company in the world. WE are currently litigating similar cases against SimplexGrinnel in New Jersey and California. We are also litigating prevailing wage cases on behalf of roofers working at All Roofing Corp., Rashel Construction Corp. Biltmore General Contractors Inc., and Triangle General Contracting, Inc.

Contact us if you think you may be owed prevailing wages, or for more information about any of the cases discussed above.

Judge Rules Fox Searchlight "Interns" Are Actually Just Unpaid Employees

A judge in the Southern District of New York has ruled that interns who were essentially treated the same as paid staff -- with the exception of not being paid -- are actually regular employees. Federal and New York law require that employees be paid. While certain "trainees" may be exempt from these requirements, simply calling someone an "intern" is not sufficient. A true internship, that is not required by law to be compensated, must actually provide some degree of education and training that other, paid employees, would not get. So if the only education you get from your internship is the experience of working somewhere -- learning how the photocopier works, getting a line on a resume --  it's not an internship, it's just free labor. That's not OK. In a world where more people must compete for fewer jobs, and where wages have been near stagnant for decades, unpaid internships reinforce the worst kinds of inequality. Unpaid interns drive down wages for everyone, making paid employees work under the threat of being replaced by "interns."  Who can compete with free labor?

Moreover, these unpaid "internships" are increasingly becoming prerequisites to paid employment. This creates a world in which only those who can afford to work for free are able to secure paid work.

This decision is a great step in the right direction. If you are an unpaid intern, and think you should be getting paid, contact us.

Home Health Aides Win Decision on Unpaid Overnight Work

Many home health agencies do not pay their home health aides for the overnight hours of their 24 hour shifts. This is a true hardship for those aides, since the patients they care for, many of whom suffer from dementia, require care throughout the night. Beranbaum Menken has brought several lawsuits challenging this practice, since under New York law, if an employer requires a worker to be in a particular place, and available to work, then that worker must be paid at least the minimum wage for that time, whether working or not. See 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 142-2.1(b). In one of those cases, Andryeyeva v. New York Health Care, which is pending in Kings County Supreme Court, Commercial Division, Judge Demarest rejected the employer’s argument that it did not have to pay home attendants for their overnight work so long as they were afforded three uninterrupted hours for meals, and eight hours of sleep, five uninterrupted. Click here for the decision: Decision on NYHC first CC motion Judge Demarest held that “the issue of hours afforded for uninterrupted sleep or meals is irrelevant.” This makes it very likely, in our opinion, that our clients will be able to prevail on their claim for their unpaid overnight minimum wages not just for themselves, but for a class of all home attendants who worked 24 hour shifts for New York Health Care, which formerly did business as New York Home Attendant Agency.