“Manual Workers” in New York Must Be Paid Every Week. And Whether or Not You Think So, You May Be a Manual Worker

June 6, 2023

When you think of “manual workers,” you may picture bricklayers and mechanics, welders and carpenters, plumbers, and others who do hard, physically demanding work. You probably don’t consider cashiers, customer service representatives, pizza makers, retail workers, and others without callouses on their hands and sweat on their brows to be “manual workers.” But in New York, individuals in these and similar roles may, in fact, be considered “manual workers” under the law. And if you fall under that designation, New York wage laws likely require that your employer pay you every single week, not bi-monthly, as is more common. If they don’t, you may have a claim against your employer that could result in your recovery of damages – even if your employer ultimately pays you for all the work you do.

Broad Interpretation of “Manual Worker” in New York

Section 191(1)(a) of the New York Labor Law (NYLL) provides that “a manual worker shall be paid weekly and not later than seven calendar days after the end of the work week in which the wages are earned.” There are exceptions to this requirement for certain large employers (1000+ employees), non-profit entities, employees in “professional, executive, and administrative roles,” and certain large employers (1000+ employees) that request an exemption from the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor.

Accordingly, whether you are considered a “manual worker” or not under New York law will determine whether you must receive a paycheck every week. NYLL Section 190(4) defines a “manual worker” as “a mechanic, workingman or laborer.” While that definition may seem short, simple, and limited, the Department of Labor has consistently construed it broadly, including within the definition a wide range of employees in a broad spectrum of industries who may not seem at first glance to fit the bill of “manual worker.”

As the Department notes in its FAQ page about pay frequency:

It has been the long-standing interpretation of this Department that individuals who spend more than 25% of working time engaged in “physical labor” fit within the meaning of the term “manual worker.” Furthermore, the term “physical labor” has been interpreted broadly to include countless physical tasks performed by employees.

Over the years, the Department has issued opinion letters that determined that specific jobs fall under the “manual worker” umbrella because of the amount and type of physical labor involved. And in many cases, “physical labor” simply means the employee spends a lot of time on their feet. As such, the Department has opined that the following may be considered manual workers who must be paid weekly:

  • Cashiers
  • Bartenders
  • Baristas
  • Hairdressers
  • Retail store workers
  • Pizza makers
  • Supermarket employees
  • Restaurant employees
  • Janitors
  • Security guards

This is far from an exhaustive list, and the Department has clarified that it makes its determinations case by case, focusing on the actual work performed rather than the job title. But if you spend more than a quarter of your working hours on your feet, carrying, lifting, or moving things, cleaning, or operating machinery, among other physical activities, there is a good chance you are a “manual worker.”

What Happens When an Employer Doesn’t Pay Manual Workers Weekly?

In the 2018 case of Vega v. CM & Associates Construction Management, LLC, a New York appellate court held that “manual workers” who are paid bi-monthly instead of weekly can recover liquidated and other damages from their employer in a civil lawsuit, even if they have been receiving full pay because such pay is considered “late.” The statute of limitations for such claims is six years, meaning employees may have claims against former employers as well as their current ones.

If you think you may be a “manual worker” under New York law and have not been receiving weekly paychecks, you may have a claim that could result in your recovery of compensation. Please contact Outten & Golden today to discuss your situation.

(*Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.)