DEAR CARRIE: Can my employer lower what employees earn without notifying them? It was brought to my attention that this falls under the state Wage Theft Prevention Act, and I thought that under that act employees had to be notified at least a week before a pay rate is changed. We were not notified at all until employees began asking about the pay decrease. And we have been given numerous, different answers. Can you let us know if what our employer did is legal? — Wage Irate
DEAR WAGE: Your employer's action seems questionable at best. As you correctly point out, the state Wage Theft Prevention Act, which took effect in 2011, requires employers to let employees know ahead of time of any wage reduction — generally at least a week in advance, according to the state Labor Department’s website.
It's a shame your employer wasn't more helpful. If it didn't notify you and your co-workers properly, it could be subject to damages of up to $50 a day per employee.
It’s worth noting that the wage act covers private-sector employees, not government workers.
For more information, contact the state Labor Department at 516-794-8195 or 212-775-3880.
DEAR CARRIE: I was laid off from a company that pays out vacation and sick leave balances. Is there any law governing the amount of time a company has to pay those leave balances? — Beneficial Question
DEAR BENEFICIAL: Unlike the case with wages, companies have leeway in setting the terms for supplemental wages, which includes such things as paid sick leave and vacation and holiday pay. But once they have agreed to pay them, they do face a deadline to pay.
Here is what the state Labor Department website says:
"Under the New York State Labor Law, payment for time not actually worked is not required unless the employer has established a policy to grant such pay. Holidays, sick time and/or vacations fall under 'time not worked.' When an employer does decide to create a benefit policy, that employer is free to impose any conditions they choose."
But employees must be notified in advance about benefits policies. The company either has to post the information or notify employees in writing.
Once an employee meets the conditions for receiving benefits, the company has to deliver on its promise to pay.
“Under New York state law, it is a crime for an employer to fail to furnish those benefits which he has agreed to pay as part of an employee's total compensation package,” the attorney general's website says.
But the laws regarding frequency of payments differ for wages and supplemental wages.
“An employer should pay employees all wages due no later than the regular pay day for the pay period during which the separation from employment occurred,” the website says.
But the payment of supplemental wages is governed by a company's benefits policy.
“Fringe benefits or wage supplements must be paid or provided within thirty days after they are required by the agreement between the employer and the employee,” the Labor Department’s website says.
The Department of Labor will help you obtain unpaid wage supplements you are entitled to, unless you were an executive, administrative or professional employee and earned more than $900 a week.
For more information, contact the Labor Department at the numbers above.