In terms of pure dollar amounts, wage theft is one of the biggest financial crimes in the United States, costing workers more than eight billion dollars a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. This deprives workers of income they are legally entitled to, enriching employers at the expense of their employees. But what is wage theft, and how do you know if it is happening to you?
Defining Wage Theft
Wage theft is when an employer fails to appropriately pay employees for the work they provide. This can mean they simply do not pay an employee for their work, or they withhold payment or benefits through various means to avoid paying the full amount of what they owe. Over time, this can easily cost workers hundreds or thousands of dollars, effectively depriving them of a significant amount of income that they are legally entitled to.
Types of Wage Theft
There are a number of different ways that employers will steal from their employees, all of which are violations of wage and hour laws. These include, but are not limited to:
- Paying normal wages instead of time-and-a-half for overtime
- Failing to pay overtime at all for hourly workers
- Forcing employees to work off the clock
- Refusing to allow workers to take breaks
- Refusing to allow workers to take mandated sick or vacation days
- Stealing tips or forcing employees to hand over tips
- Making unauthorized or illegal deductions from employee paychecks
- Misclassifying employees as independent contractors
Signs of Wage Theft
The surest sign that you may be the victim of wage theft is to look at your own paycheck. Based on your wages, you should be able to calculate how much you are supposed to make, and if your paycheck is less than that, your boss should be able to explain why. You should also be suspicious if your boss fails to pay you on time, or if your paycheck bounces, or if they become defensive when asked about your paycheck. If your employer cannot explain these discrepancies, or if they try to punish you for asking about problems with your paycheck, they may be stealing your wages.
What You Should Do if You Are a Victim of Wage Theft
If you have been the victim of wage theft, you should consider filing a complaint with the Department of Labor, either at the state or federal level. You should also speak to a lawyer with experience handling wage and hour violations. They can help you go over your potential legal options, and help you to obtain the pay you rightly deserve.
Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 41 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. His new book, “Fired!: Protect Your Rights & FIGHT BACK If You’re Terminated, Laid Off, Downsized, Restructured, Forced to Resign or Quit,” is available in hardback, and contains valuable advice on dealing with employment and labor law issues. To purchase the book, feel free to contact Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or visit the website at legalstratpub.com. To inquire about a legal matter, please feel free to contact attorney Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.