Workers across the country are dealing with the financial and personal impact of wage theft and underpayment.
Upon hearing the phrase “wage theft,” many people conjure up images of someone, perhaps with a weapon or in a ski mask, literally stealing the money out of a newly paid worker’s hand. While, in legal terms, the phrase means something different, the result is the same: a hard working employee is left at the end of the day with less money than he or she deserves.
Wage theft has traditionally been limited to lower-paying or minimum-wage positions like fast food workers, factory workers or other blue collar employees. Nowadays, though, this troubling employment law issue has crossed social and economic lines to affect professional/white collar workers as well. Perhaps one of the most troubling things about wage theft – and something that makes it difficult to stop – is that it comes in many different forms.
Types of wage theft
Even though the concept of wage theft encompasses a wide variety of different wrongful employer actions, there are some common types seen in workplaces across the country. One of the most common “wage and hour” violations is the failure to pay overtime compensation. When hourly or non-exempt employees work more than 40 hours in a given pay period, they should be compensated accordingly, at a rate of no less than one and a half times their standard wage. Paying additional hours at the same standard base pay is not only a bad business practice, it is in violation of state and federal employment laws.
In addition to unpaid overtime compensation, wage theft also includes:
- Purposely misclassifying workers as exempt from overtime pay mandates or as independent contractors instead of employees (to avoid paying them their due wages and providing other important benefits)
- Failing to pay the prevailing minimum wage
- Forcing employees to work off the clock (either by making them perform job duties prior to their shift starting or having them “punch out” and keep working)
- Taking illegal deductions from workers’ paychecks
- Failing to pay for travel time or hours worked
There are currently several high-profile wage theft cases filed in jurisdictions across the country. Some of these are against the McDonald’s fast food company (similar cases have been filed in several states). The cases against McDonald’s center on several key wage theft aspects, including taking illegal deductions – like uniform fees or name tag costs, – failing to pay overtime and forcing employees to work “off the clock” to keep labor costs in check.
Another high-profile wage theft case concerns some of the nation’s biggest and most recognizable software companies. Software engineers collectively sued Apple, Adobe, Intel and Google, alleging that these corporations colluded to prevent competitive salaries for employees, thus keeping wages inordinately low and limiting employment options for trained professionals.
Have you been the victim of wage theft at the hands of your employer? Were you forced to work off the clock or have you been unpaid for overtime hours? If so, you have legal rights. In order to hold your employer accountable for these wrongful actions, speak with an employment law attorney in your area.
Keywords: wage and hour, wage theft, underpayment, overtime, employment law, labor law