As most employers know, the United States Department of Labor has extensive regulations regarding the nature and scope of records employers covered by the Act must maintain. See 29 CFR § 516.1, et seq. Many state laws contain analogous provisions. See, e.g. NY Labor Law § 195. While violations of these recordkeeping requirements can lead to civil penalties, (standing alone a reason for compliance), wage records can be even more important as evidence of hours worked in defending claims for alleged unpaid overtime. See our earlier discussion regarding the implications of failing to maintain such records for the defense of wage/hour claims here.

However, employers also need to understand that falsification of wage and benefits records can also give rise to criminal penalties. The recent New York State court decision in People v Saxton, 2010 NY Slip Op 6011, 1 (3d Dep’t 2010) is exemplary. In Saxton a New York state appeals court reviewed the jury conviction of the former executive of a failing business on three counts, including “falsifying business records in the first degree.”

The Defendant, Richard Saxton, had been the officer of a fledgling Internet start-up, Wurld Media, Inc. He supervised the company’s payroll and its general ledger. When Wurld Media encountered serious financial difficulty, it suspended payroll (a likely wage-and-hour violation itself), and instituted an “advance” program, wherein employees who had not received their regular paychecks could “request an advance of money when needed.” Wurld Media, through Defendant, listed these payments as loans, not wage payments, and as such did not pay taxes on these amounts.

After Wurld Media employees complained to the criminal authorities regarding the company’s failure to pay wages, an investigation was conducted giving rise to a nine-count indictment which included charges of: 1) offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree (two counts); 2) falsifying business records in the first degree, 3) failure to withhold income taxes, 4) failure to pay benefits, 5) grand larceny in the second degree, 6) grand larceny in the third degree, 7) criminal contempt in the second degree, and 8) money laundering in the fourth degree. Saxton was convicted on several of these charges.

In upholding Saxton’s conviction for falsifying business records, the appeals court cited evidence in the record “[that] payroll taxes were not withheld from those advances, that Wurld Media recorded those advances as loans on the general ledger and that defendant signed two quarterly tax reports that did not reflect that those advances were, in fact, payroll to avoid payroll tax liabilities.” 

Saxton is not an isolated case. In 2008, a prominent New York restaurateur was arraigned on 242 counts of, among other offenses, failing to pay wages, falsifying business records and defrauding the state unemployment insurance system. See “The American Dream, Delivered Perhaps Too Much on the Cheap” (The New York Times December 18, 2008). Failure to maintain proper wage records can have serious ramifications for a business. Creating and maintaining false ones is, unsurprisingly, even more dangerous for employers and executives.