Wage Theft is Real: Don’t Get Ripped Off

What is wage theft?

Wage theft is just how it sounds—theft of wages owed to a worker by their employer. Basically, wage theft is the illegal withholding of wages or the denial of benefits that are rightfully owed to and earned by an employee. It can include:

  • Denial of overtime pay – If an employee works over time, they are entitled to receive time and a half pay.
  • Asking employee to work off the clock – Non-exempt employees must be paid for all time that they are working, without exception.
  • Paying less than minimum wage – The lowest hourly rate allowed by law
  • Refusal of workers to take meal and rest breaks – Paid lunch breaks and unpaid rest breaks must be offered based on the number of hours being worked.
  • Withholding workers’ tips – Tips belong to the servers who receive them, and cannot be split by non-service staff or management.

Who is affected by wage theft?

A new study by the United States Labor Department shows that between 3.5 and 6.5 percent of all the wage and salary workers in California are paid less than the minimum wage, a form of wage theft. According to the study, wage violations occurred most often in the restaurant and hotel industries, followed by educational and health services. The study was done for the Labor Department by the Eastern Research Group. The data was collected from the Census Bureau’s current Population Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

Some might think that wage theft probably only happens in small, shady operations, but recent lawsuits involving wage theft have included large corporations as well.

Recently, Guadalupe Salazar, a cashier at a McDonald’s in Oakland, Calif., said her paychecks repeatedly missed a few hours of work time and overtime pay. She also claims that this sometimes brings her overall pay below the minimum wage. She is part of one of several lawsuits against McDonald’s and several of its franchise operators. Some of the claims in the wage theft lawsuit include not being paid for overtime, having hours deducted from timecard and working off the clock.

Are you a victim of wage theft?

Understanding and exercising your rights is key in protecting yourself against wage theft. If you are experiencing, or have experienced wage theft, there are several actions you can take by filing a:

  • File a Wage Claim – This is essentially a demand to your employer that they pay you what you are owed.  This includes all missed compensation as well as proper compensation going forward.
  • Report the Violation – Reporting the employer to the proper government agencies can be an effective way to get the money you are owed, as well as helping to end wage theft taking place at the company.
  • Retaliation Complaint – If you were disciplined (fired, demoted) for reporting labor law or workplace safety violations you may be entitled to compensation.  Retaliation by an employer is illegal.

Avoid being taken advantage by recognizing wage theft, knowing your rights and speaking to an attorney if you feel your employer has committed wage theft.