Wage theft is a serious problem in New York and throughout the country. That’s particularly true in some industries, like construction. Recently, New York state passed a bill that may make it harder for employers to get away with wage theft on construction projects. Part of the way it did this was by making more people responsible for the issue. Instead of holding just subcontractors accountable, the general contractors working on a project may now be held liable for wage theft.
Why responsibility matters
General contractors don’t want to deal with lawsuits. The hope is that this bill will make them look more closely at which subcontractors they choose to work with. By expanding accountability, the goal is to prevent the theft of an estimated $1 billion in wages and benefits each year to New York’s workers. Construction unions broadly support this bill. Similar wage theft laws have been effective in other states and the District of Columbia.
One important benefit to workers is that they will be able to pursue the general contractor even if the subcontractor directly employing them goes out of business. This makes it more likely that workers will get paid for the effort they put in on any job. General contractors worry, however, because they can be held responsible for up to 3 years after the wage theft occurs. They may even be held accountable for the misdeeds of a subcontractor’s subcontractor.
States like California, which has a similar law, still have high rates of wage theft. It remains to be seen how effective this law will be. Advocates for general contractors have suggested that it needs some edits to truly do what it aims to do. They say they support measures to end wage theft but that they believe this one will be ineffective.