The New York state legislature recently passed two bills providing additional protections to employees asserting unpaid wage claims. These changes are the latest in the state’s overhaul of its employment law landscape this summer. As we discussed in previous posts, New York recently enacted limitations on the use of nondisclosure provisions in settlement and separation agreements, new standards for litigating and defending harassment claims, expanded equal pay protections, a statewide ban on salary history inquiries, and additional changes to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. We will address the two new laws and their implications in this two-part series.

The first bill expands the definition of retaliation under the New York Labor Law. By way of background, New York has long prohibited retaliation against employees who complain of alleged wage violations or otherwise cooperate with state regulators regarding an alleged violation of wage and hour laws. Specifically, an employer cannot “discharge, threaten, penalize, or in any other manner discriminate or retaliate against any employee” for complaining about wage practices such as minimum wage violations, unpaid overtime, improper deductions, and the like.

The recent measure, which takes effect October 27, expands the scope of unlawful retaliation to include instances in which an employer, in response to an employee’s wage-related complaint, reports or threatens to report the immigration or citizenship status of the employee or a family or household member of the employee to U.S. or other immigration authorities. Practically speaking, this means that an employer cannot contact or threaten to contact immigration authorities – or presumably any law enforcement body – about an employee’s or their family members’ immigration or citizenship status in response to an internal or external complaint about wage practices.

To ensure compliance with this new law, employers should train supervisors and managers on the new law and ensure that reference to, or communication with, immigration authorities and related law enforcement agencies is limited to bona fide circumstances and is not retaliatory.