Wage theft happens when employers do not pay workers according to the law, according to Wage Justice. Maybe you’ve heard about wage theft, but did you know you or a loved one might be a wage theft victim?
While wage theft does have some common trends, it can happen in any job, in any industry, to employees of any experience level or status. Wage theft occurs when an employer pays workers less than they are legally owed for their work, in any form! Below are 11 crucial facts about wage theft in the United States.
- Wage theft is illegal on both federal and state levels. It is typically a violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act or of state or local law, according to Demos.
- There are many ways that wage theft can happen. Examples of wage theft include:
- paying less than the minimum wage
- stealing employee tips
- failing to pay overtime
- requiring employees to work through required meal or rest breaks
- forcing workers to work off-the-clock
- making illegal deductions from paychecks
- not paying employees at all
- not paying for required sick leave
- paying employees with invalid checks with insufficient funds
- breaking promises to pay at a later date
- forcing employees to record fewer hours than actually worked.
- Wage theft often goes unchallenged. In many cases, workers may not know or understand their full rights on the job. Even when workers know they are being cheated by an employer, wage theft often goes unreported because either workers may not know how to report the violation or because they fear they will be fired or suffer retaliation if they speak up.
- $15 billion a year is stolen from workers’ paychecks through only one form of wage theft. In a recent paper, the Economic Policy Institute calculated this tragic and illegal unfairness. This $15 billion a year is only considering wages stolen through employers paying employees less than the minimum wage. But the scope of wage theft is far greater.
- Retail employers are common victims. While wage theft can and does happen in every industry, retail employers are commonly victimized. 358,000 retail workers are cheated because of minimum wage violations every year. In a huge discrepancy, retail companies invest a lot of resources into dealing with other kinds of theft. Retailers install security cameras, affix anti-theft tags to merchandise, and hire guards to protect their stores. Retailers threaten shoplifters with the fullest extent of legal penalties possible. And yet, retail employers themselves commit huge amounts of theft! Employers often steal from their employees, depriving their employees of the payments legally owed.
- Penalties for shoplifting are greater than penalties for wage theft. If a shoplifter steals more than $2,500 in merchandise, they can face felony charges in any state in the country, according to Demos. The greatest civil federal penalty for wage theft is repaying the amount in stolen wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages. Even for repeat or willful violations, the maximum penalty is $1,100. Just one form of wage theft in the retail industry alone is equivalent to the value of all merchandise lost to shoplifting nationwide, reports Demos. Often the only way for employees to get the wages owed them is through the help of an experienced attorney.
- Minimum wage violations push 302,000 families below the poverty line every year. Wage theft violations cut into the paychecks of an estimated 4.5 million working people and their families every year. As these huge portions of paychecks are stolen, hundreds of thousands of working families are pushed below the poverty line every year.
- The scope of wage theft is huge. While minimum wage violations are massive, researchers are finding that requiring employees to work off-the-clock, work through meal breaks, or failing to adequately compensate employees for working overtime are even more widespread than minimum wage violations.
- Employers remain unthreatened by wage theft penalties. Because wage theft penalties are currently not very significant, employers take advantage of employees because the benefit of stealing wages outweighs the risk of a possible penalty.
- Economically and socially vulnerable groups are often targeted in wage theft. Employers take advantage of especially vulnerable groups such as women, people of color, immigrants, and especially undocumented workers. These groups are disproportionately likely to be victims of wage theft, reports Demos.
- There’s help for victims of wage theft!
Do you think you might be the victim of wage theft? It’s time to end injustice! Whatever industry you work in and however complicated your case is, we’re here to help you get the wages you deserve. Don’t suffer in silence. Call 225-343-2205 to speak to an attorney today, or contact us online!
3960 Government St.
Baton Rouge, LA 70806