The SWEAT Bill (full text available here) is yet another well-intentioned but completely unnecessary anti-business piece of legislation that has been resurrected and gained traction with the New York Legislature in the last few days. As the legislative session is wrapping up this week, employee advocacy groups are working diligently in the last few days to ensure that this bill becomes a law. Employers that are in industries that are susceptible to wage claims, such as employers in the home care industry, should contact their local elected officials immediately to object to this bill becoming law.
As we had reported previously when this law was originally introduced several years ago (and, thankfully, had stalled in the Legislature since that time), the SWEAT Bill would allow alleged “victims” of wage theft to obtain a temporary lien against their employer’s (or alleged employer’s) assets upon the filing of a “wage claim.” (The term “wage claim” is not defined in the law and, thus it is unclear if a lawsuit has to be filed in order for the law’s provisions to be triggered, or whether a complaint to the Department of Labor would suffice). In other words, a current or former employee could file a claim against their employer (or former employer) and immediately place a lien on that employer’s personal and real property. The problematic part of this bill is that it allows an employee to secure the lien without having prove any wrongdoing or error by the employer. The lien, once filed, would be in the amount of the alleged claim (which could be a class claim), plus liquidated damages. In effect, the employee lien could prevent an employer (or alleged employer in cases of fiscal intermediaries) from conveying, selling or transferring real or personal property while the employee lien is in place. The lien could impede a business’s attempts to sell the business or secure financing.
If the SWEAT bill is passed, employees and their attorneys will have significant new leverage to elicit, through threatened litigation or claims, favorable wage and hour payouts from employers. Employers, facing the prospect of expensive litigation and a lien, would be pressured into settling even the most meritless of claims.
The SWEAT Bill was previously vetoed by Governor Cuomo. Perhaps the same fate will follow the bill with Governor Hochul, but no employer should sit idly by given the potential ramifications of this law. We encourage all our readers to contact their lobbyists, associations or attorney and the legislative officials directly to object to this bill becoming a law.