ALBANY, NY (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) – Governor Kathy Hochul signed a package of legislation on Wednesday, September 6 that will expand employee protections in the workplace.

“This legislation will help to ensure that all New Yorkers receive the benefits and protections that allow them to work with dignity,” Governor Hochul said in a statement. “My administration is committed to making our state the most worker-friendly state in the nation, and I thank the bill sponsors for their partnership in our mission to establish the strongest and most robust protections right here in New York.”

The first legislation expanded freedom of speech and conscience protections for employees. It allows the protection of employees from punishment, should they choose to opt out of meetings sponsored by employers concerning views on political and religious matters.  The bill passed the Assembly on Saturday, June 10.

“Everyone deserves a safe workplace where they are treated with dignity and respect,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “The legislation being enacted today will help protect workers across the state, particularly immigrants and other vulnerable New Yorkers who are often the likeliest victims of employer abuses like wage theft and discrimination. From now on, prosecutors will have the tools they need to stop perpetrators of wage theft who steal billions of dollars from New Yorkers every year.”

The second legislation makes wage theft a form of larceny in the state of New York. The legislation would amend the penal law to include such language. According to the amended law, an employer would commit wage theft when: “he or she hires a person to perform services and the person performs such services and the person does not pay wages, at the minimum wage rate and overtime, or promised wage, if greater than the minimum wage rate and overtime, to said person for work performed.”

“We thank Governor Hochul for signing this significant piece of legislation into law,” New York State Building and Construction Trades Council President Gary LaBarbera said in a statement. “Wage theft is a problem that is rampant, especially within the non-union construction industry. By strengthening the criminal penalties associated with this corrupt activity, we believe the new law provides important tools to help deter the continuing problem of wage theft as it adds another enforcement option for victims.”

The third legislation increases the minimum payout for worker’s compensation benefits to better protect lower-wage workers who are injured and cannot work. Minimum benefits will be increased to $275 beginning next year. They will then increase another $50 to $325 in 2025, and beginning in 2026, will increase to one-fifth of the state’s average weekly wage.

“We are pleased the Governor signed another law that addresses the needs of injured workers,” New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said in a statement. “The new law not only provides a much-needed increase to the minimum workers’ compensation benefit, but the benefit will now be indexed resulting in injured workers being treated more fairly moving forward.”