Understanding wage theft in the workplace

Wage theft is a significant problem in workplaces across the country.

When a person goes to work for a company or corporation, they trust that their employers will be following all of the applicable state and federal rules concerning the workplace. The workers want to believe that the employers know these rules, and that they will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the rights of employees are being protected.

Unfortunately, this is not always what ends up happening in many workplaces across the country. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute has examined the growing issue of wage theft, which happens when employers fail to pay all of the money that an employee earns while on the job. The study reports that nearly $1 billion dollars was recovered in cases from employers due to this practice during 2012, the most recent statistics available.

There are many different kinds of behavior that could be considered to be employer wage theft, which could potentially lead to wage and hour claims by employees. These include:

  • Forcing employers to perform tasks before clocking in or after clocking out for their workday
  • Underpaying overtime hours
  • Not paying employees minimum wage
  • Interrupting unpaid meal breaks
  • Not paying employees in a timely manner

It is important to note that these actions occur in many different types of industries and workplaces. Those working in a professional capacity in an office are just as likely to experience these events as someone working in a factory. Improper application of a salary compensation program even though job duties do not meet the legal requirements for the salary application is a common way for office workers to be cheated out of hours worked.

In many cases, the only way that wage theft is ever discovered is if an employee comes forward. Many employees are reluctant to take action, either because they are unfamiliar with the rules or, they do not want to end up losing their jobs. This frequently happens in low-paying jobs, where workers rely upon their paychecks to make ends meet. However, anti-retaliation provisions in the both state and federal law make it very risky for employers to take adverse actions against an employee who asserts their wage and hour legal rights. And, with frequent job changes, many employees wait until they have secured a new job and then pursue the back wages they are owed.

If you feel your employer is not paying you all of the compensation you have earned, you should speak to an attorney experienced with the state and federal wage and hour laws. Your attorney will be able to analyze your specific situation, and help you determine if you may have a claim.

After you have discussed your options, you and your attorney will be able to devise a strategy to recover the amount that you are owed, plus any other penalties that may be available. While you may be reluctant to challenge your employer, it is important that you take steps to protect your rights. Your employer could continue to engage in these behaviors, which may end up costing you a substantial amount of money over your career.