Labor & Employment Law

Labor & Employment Law

New York Labor & Employment Law Attorneys

From our firm’s earliest beginnings in 1890, Coughlin & Gerhart has been committed to achieving positive outcomes for our clients in and out of the courtroom. While we recognize that few of our business or municipal clients wish to endure expensive and time-consuming litigation, all of our lawyers have the experience and talent to fully litigate any case to conclusion if needed. As important, we are able to identify issues, outline options and tailor strategies that are designed to advance our clients’ unique interests and objectives.

Unlike other firms, we choose to only represent public and private sector employers and their management teams in labor and employment disputes. This focus allows us to provide comprehensive and unvarnished legal advice to our many business and municipal clients. Although we have seven offices across New York’s Southern Tier and Northern Pennsylvania, we are far more than a regional Labor & Employment Law firm. We maintain a robust state-wide practice and represent employers from Long Island to Buffalo and all points in-between. Our firm has been favorably ranked in the Labor & Employment Law area by U.S. News and World Report. Several of our partners have been recognized as some of New York’s most experienced Labor & Employment Law attorneys, including those who have been named for inclusion in the Best Lawyers in America and publications.

The relationship between employee and employer is ever-changing and increasingly regulated by federal and state laws and regulations. We assist clients in negotiating the vast “mine fields” created by these changes in an effort to prevent or limit labor and employment-related problems. Part of that process is assisting our employer clients with the review, drafting, and enforcement of well-reasoned policies and procedures that will withstand scrutiny and challenge. Another part of that process is to provide sound advice and legal counsel to our employer clients on the best ways to end the employment relationship so as to mitigate risk and exposure.

Guiding Clients Toward Favorable Resolution of Legal Disputes

From the moment they meet with our attorneys to discuss their legal matter, our business and municipal clients have confidence that, because we only represent employers in disputes, we approach every case unquestionably committed to helping a client advance its cause.

We maintain a diverse Labor & Employment Law litigation practice, focused on helping clients resolve the following litigated claims:

  • EEOC claims (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)
  • NYSHRD claims (New York State Human Rights Division)
  • Discipline proceedings
  • Employee discrimination, harassment and retaliation suits
  • OSHA citations (Occupational Safety & Health Administration)
  • Safety and health violations
  • Civil Service Law matters
  • Police and firefighter disability/GML Section 207 claims (General Municipal Law)
  • New York State disability retirement claims
  • Wage and hour claims
  • DOL claims (Department of Labor)
  • Unemployment Insurance claims

We also know that many workplace disputes can be avoided through proactive counsel to ensure compliance with the wide array of federal, state, and local regulations. We can assist with:

  • Development of employee handbooks
  • Harassment prevention and reporting policies
  • Drug and alcohol testing policies
  • Family and Medical Leave Act policies
  • Social Media policies
  • Employment agreements
  • Independent contractor agreements
  • Severance agreements
  • Noncompetition and confidentiality agreements
  • Employee counseling and discipline

Many of our public and private sector clients have an “organized” or unionized workforce. Others may be faced with a union’s attempts to organize their workers. We can assist with:

  • Union organizational activities and elections
  • Negotiation of collective bargaining agreements
  • Grievance arbitration
  • Interest arbitration
  • Labor-management conflicts
  • NLRB proceedings (National Labor Relations Board)
  • PERB proceedings (Public Employment Relations Board)

Contact Coughlin & Gerhart

We conduct management training seminars on state and federal employment law compliance and are available for this purpose upon request. Arrange to speak with one of our Labor & Employment Law attorneys in a confidential consultation. For more information, please contact the Chair of our Labor and Employment Law Litigation Practice Group, Angelo D. Catalano, at (607) 821-2202, toll free 800-646-3420, or email the group at [email protected]

Labor and Employment FAQ

NOTE: Procedures related to the administration of claims under GML 207 may be subject to collectively bargained procedures and/or ‘past practices’ – municipalities should consult with legal counsel to ensure that they comply with both the law and any applicable procures or policies in relation to the claims handling process.  These factors could affect any of the steps suggested below; thus, no action should be taken without consulting competent legal counsel.

What steps should an employer take when an employee files a GML 207 claim in New York?

Review and acknowledge the claim: The employer should promptly review the filed claim and acknowledge its receipt. This ensures that the employee’s concerns are being taken seriously and that the employer is aware of the situation.

Conduct an internal investigation: The employer should initiate an internal investigation into the employee’s allegations. This may involve collecting relevant documents, interviewing witnesses, and gathering all relevant medical records that can help assess the validity of the claim.

Consult legal counsel: It is crucial for the employer to seek advice from legal counsel specializing in labor and employment law. Coughlin & Gerhart handles GML 207 claims throughout New York State. We can provide guidance on the legal obligations, potential liabilities, and the appropriate course of action.

Maintain confidentiality and avoid retaliation: The employer should maintain confidentiality throughout the process to protect the privacy of the involved parties. Retaliation against the employee for filing the claim is strictly prohibited and can lead to further legal consequences.

Respond to the claim: After completing the investigation, the employer should provide a written response to the employee’s claim. This response should outline the findings of the investigation and the employer’s position on the matter.

How can an employer assess the validity of a GML 207 claim made by a police officer or firefighter?

To assess the validity of a GML 207 claim made by a police officer or firefighter in New York, an employer may be entitled take the following steps:

Gather relevant information: Obtain all available documentation related to the claim, including medical records, incident reports, witness statements, and any other evidence that supports or challenges the claim.  As an initial matter an injury or illness must have been incurred in the “performance of duty” in order to have potential coverage under GML 207.  In addition, an injury or illness, and any claimed period of disability, must be supported by adequate medical evidence in order to support a claim.

Consult medical professionals: Engage independent medical professionals specializing in the specific injuries or conditions stated in the claim. These professionals can evaluate the employee’s medical records, conduct examinations if necessary, and provide an expert opinion on the validity of the claim.

Review job requirements and duties: Evaluate the job requirements and duties of the police officer or firefighter to determine if the claimed injury or condition is consistent with the demands of their role. This assessment can help establish the plausibility of the claim.

Conduct interviews and investigations: Interview the employee, relevant witnesses, supervisors, and other individuals involved in the claim to gather additional information and perspectives. Investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged injury or condition to validate or challenge the employee’s account.

Seek legal and expert advice: Consult with legal counsel, such as Coughlin & Gerhart, who are experienced in labor and employment law and, if necessary, engage specialized experts such as private investigators or forensic specialists to assist in evaluating the claim.

What are the potential consequences if an employer fails to properly defend against a GML 207 claim in New York?

Financial liabilities: If the employer fails to adequately defend against a valid GML 207 claim, they may be required to provide full salary including raises, medical benefits, or other measures mandated by the law.

Employee morale and productivity: Mishandling or neglecting a GML 207 claim can have a negative impact on employee morale and productivity. Employees may perceive the employer as uncaring or unresponsive, leading to decreased job satisfaction, lower productivity, and potential disengagement from their work.

What are the legal requirements regarding overtime pay in New York?

In New York, the legal requirements regarding overtime pay are governed by both federal and state laws. The key provisions are as follows:

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): Under federal law, non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay at a rate of one and a half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

New York State Labor Law: The New York State Labor Law follows the FLSA requirements for overtime pay. However, there are additional provisions specific to New York. Notably, the salary threshold for exempt employees is higher in New York State than under the FLSA.

Minimum wage threshold: To be eligible for overtime pay in New York, employees must generally meet a certain minimum salary threshold. The threshold is determined by the number of employees in the employer’s business and the location within the state.

Exemptions: Some employees are exempt from overtime pay, such as certain executive, administrative, professional, and outside sales employees who meet specific job duties and salary requirements.

Record-keeping: Employers are required to keep accurate records of hours worked by employees, including overtime hours, for a designated period of time.

How do I determine whether my employees are classified as exempt or non-exempt in New York?

To determine whether employees are classified as exempt or non-exempt in New York, employers should consider the following factors:

Job duties: Examine the actual job duties performed by each employee. The job duties must meet specific criteria outlined by federal and state laws to qualify for exemption. These criteria generally pertain to executive, administrative, professional, and outside sales roles.

Salary basis: Assess the salary payment structure for employees. Generally, exempt employees are paid on a salary basis and receive a predetermined amount regardless of the number of hours worked, whereas non-exempt employees are typically paid on an hourly basis and are eligible for overtime pay.

Salary threshold: Consider the minimum salary threshold established by both federal and state laws. Employees must meet the minimum salary threshold to be eligible for exemption. The threshold can vary depending on factors such as the size of the employer, the location within the state, and whether it aligns with federal or state law.

Consult legal counsel: Due to the complexity of exemption classifications, consulting with legal counsel experienced in labor and employment law is recommended. Coughlin & Gerhart can provide guidance specific to your industry, job roles, and compliance with federal and state laws.

How do I handle meal and rest breaks for employees in accordance with New York labor laws?

Meal breaks: Duration and timing: If an employee works more than six hours continuously, they are entitled to an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes. The time for when they must take their break(s), the number of breaks, and the length of the break depends upon their scheduled and actual hours of work. Most employees are entitled to a 30 minute unpaid break between the hours of 11:00am and 2:00pm. Absent extraordinary circumstances, non-exempt employees should not be permitted to work through such breaks.

Rest breaks: Rest breaks may be considered on-duty and counted as time worked if employees are not completely relieved of their duties during the break.

Record-keeping: Employers must maintain accurate records of employees’ meal breaks including the dates and durations of breaks taken.

What steps should an employer take to prevent workplace discrimination and ensure a harassment-free environment in New York?

To prevent workplace discrimination and ensure a harassment-free environment in New York, employers should take the following steps:

Establish clear policies: Develop comprehensive policies against discrimination and harassment that explicitly prohibit such behaviors and provide guidelines for reporting and addressing incidents. These policies must be in writing and provided to employees.

Conduct regular training: Provide anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training to all employees, including managers and supervisors, to promote awareness, understanding, and prevention of discriminatory practices and behaviors. This training must be at least annually.

Encourage reporting and provide multiple avenues: Create a safe and confidential reporting mechanism, such as a dedicated hotline or email address, for employees to report discrimination or harassment. Ensure employees are aware of their rights and the reporting options available.

Promptly and thoroughly investigate complaints: Respond promptly to any reports of discrimination or harassment. Conduct thorough and impartial investigations, maintaining confidentiality to the extent possible, and take appropriate remedial actions based on the investigation’s findings.

Enforce policies consistently: Apply policies consistently and fairly across the organization. Treat all reports and complaints seriously and respond in a timely manner, regardless of the position or seniority of the individuals involved.

Foster a respectful workplace culture: Encourage a culture of respect, diversity, and inclusion within the organization. Promote open communication, collaboration, and mutual respect among employees.

Stay informed and compliant: Stay updated with federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws, including those specific to New York, and ensure compliance with all legal requirements.

What are the guidelines for providing reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities in New York?

In New York, employers have obligations under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are intended to assist individuals in performing essential job functions, unless they would cause undue hardship for the employer. The accommodation process involves engaging in an interactive dialogue between the employer and employee to determine the specific limitations caused by the disability and identify potential accommodations.

Employers are not required to provide accommodations that would fundamentally alter the essential job functions or impose an undue hardship. Examples of reasonable accommodations include modified work schedules, assistive devices, workplace modifications, reassignment to vacant positions, additional training and support, or temporary leave of absence.

Employers may request limited documentation to substantiate the need for accommodation, although it should focus on the necessity rather than the details of the disability. Retaliation against employees for requesting accommodations is strictly prohibited.

To obtain detailed and accurate information, it is advisable to consult experienced legal counsel. Coughlin & Gerhart can provide specific guidelines and legal advice tailored to your individual situation.

What are the legal requirements for providing family and medical leave in accordance with New York and federal law?

In New York, family and medical leave requirements are governed by both state and federal laws. The key legal requirements for providing family and medical leave in accordance with New York and federal law are as follows:

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA is a federal law that applies to employers with 50 or more employees. It provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for qualifying reasons, such as the birth or adoption of a child, caring for a seriously ill family member, or the employee’s own serious health condition.

New York Paid Family Leave (PFL): New York has its own Paid Family Leave law, which applies to nearly all private sector employers. It provides eligible employees with job-protected paid leave to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, or assist when a family member is deployed abroad on active military duty.

Eligibility: Eligibility requirements may vary between the FMLA and PFL. Under the FMLA, employees must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, have worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding 12-month period, and work at a location with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. The PFL has different eligibility criteria, including a shorter duration of employment.

Leave Duration: The FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, while the PFL provides paid leave, with a maximum of 12 weeks in a 52-week period.

Benefit Payments: The PFL provides a percentage of the employee’s average weekly wage, with a cap determined annually. FMLA does not guarantee pay while the employee is on leave.

Job Protection: Both the FMLA and PFL require employers to reinstate employees to their previous position or an equivalent one upon returning from leave. Both laws also keep the employee’s right to retain health care benefits while on leave.

Notice and Documentation: Employees are generally required to provide notice and appropriate documentation to their employers to request family and medical leave.

It’s important to consult the specific provisions and requirements of the FMLA, PFL, and any other applicable laws, as they can change over time. Coughlin & Gerhart can provide assistance in dealing with these complex issues.

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