woman talking to retail worker

In New York, a recent shift in the interpretation of labor laws has brought significant changes for retail workers. The state’s labor code, which mandates weekly payments for manual workers, now encompasses a broader range of job roles than ever before. This expansion means that many employees in retail settings, who may not traditionally have been considered manual workers, could now be eligible for weekly pay. Understanding these changes is crucial for both employees and employers to ensure compliance and protect their rights under this evolving legal landscape.

Background of New York’s Labor Code on Manual Workers and Weekly Pay

New York’s Labor Code has long stipulated specific payment requirements for manual workers, defining them traditionally as “mechanics, workingmen, or laborers.” This definition, however, has been described as outdated by legal experts, challenging its applicability in today’s diverse workforce. The state mandates that private employers pay manual workers on a weekly basis, rather than biweekly, a regulation distinct from federal laws which permit biweekly payments. This stipulation, aimed at protecting the financial well-being of labor-intensive roles, is now subject to broader interpretation, extending its impact to a wider array of occupations, including various roles within the retail sector.

Broad Interpretation of Manual Worker

The New York State Department of Labor has adopted a broad interpretation of the term “manual worker,” significantly extending its scope. Under this interpretation, any individual who spends at least 25% of their working time engaged in physical labor is classified as a manual worker. This definition of physical labor is not limited to heavy lifting or strenuous activities but includes a range of physical tasks like carrying items, stocking shelves, unpacking boxes, and even standing or walking for extended periods. According to the New York State Industrial Board of Appeals, physical labor is work performed by exercising physical force, either aided or not aided by tools. As a result, many roles traditionally not viewed as manual labor, such as retail workers, baristas, and cooks, may now fall under this category, depending on the job duties, making them eligible for weekly payment as per the state’s labor laws.

Gray Areas and Case-by-Case Determination

The classification of certain roles as manual workers under New York’s Labor Code is not always clear-cut, leading to a need for case-by-case determination. For instance, retail cashiers, who primarily perform tasks like handling transactions, may not easily fit into the manual worker category if they don’t engage in other physical tasks like stocking shelves. The New York State Industrial Board of Appeals has made specific rulings in this regard, recognizing the nuances in different job functions. Therefore, employers and employees alike must navigate these gray areas, understanding that each role must be assessed individually to determine if it meets the criteria for a manual worker.

Legal Implications and Employer Responsibilities for Weekly Pay

Under New York’s evolving labor laws, employers face significant legal implications if they misclassify workers or fail to comply with the weekly payment requirement for manual workers. The case of Vega v. CM & Associates highlighted the right of employees to sue for wage frequency violations, even when paid in full but on a biweekly basis. Employers violating these laws must pay the full amount of delayed wages, attorney fees, and interest. Crucially, liquidated damages are mandatory even if manual workers receive full payment the following week. If employers do not ensure timely payment to manual workers, they must face costly litigation and penalties. 

Are You a Manual Worker in New York State with Questions About Your Pay Frequency?

The broadened definition of manual workers under New York’s Labor Code makes it even more important for employees to understand if they could now be eligible for weekly pay.  It’s essential to stay informed of these legal changes to safeguard rights and avoid potential violations of your right to receive timely weekly pay. If you have questions about how these regulations may impact your pay, we encourage you to contact the Lore Law Firm through our free and confidential online client intake form for professional guidance and support tailored to your specific needs.

Michael Lore is the founder of The Lore Law Firm. For over 25 years, his law practice and experience extend from representing individuals in all aspects of labor & employment law, with a concentration in class and collective actions seeking to recover unpaid back overtime wages, to matters involving executive severance negotiations, non-compete provisions and serious personal injury (work and non-work related). He has handled matters both in the state and federal courts nationwide as well as via related administrative agencies. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Michael by using our chat functionality.