Wage Theft Is Much More Common Than You Think

Dave Johnson

You might have been hearing about “wage theft.” The wage theft problem is about people showing up for work but not getting paid for the time they put in. It’s a common problem and it is one of the ways people are being ripped off by a rigged system.

How common is this problem? A recent poll found that nine out of 10 fast-food workers report having wages stolen from them. Keep in mind that these are people already paid only at or near the way-too-low minimum wage, but on top of that they are getting badly needed pay stolen from them after they put in the hours.
Think Progress explains in “Hamburgled: Nine Out Of Ten Fast Food Workers Have Experienced Wage Theft”:

The most common violation, workers report, is off-the-clock work. About a quarter of those surveyed had worked over 40 hours in a week on some occasions, and half of that group said they didn’t get overtime pay for those hours.

… Employers steal more money from their own workers each year than the combined score from every criminal store robbery and bank heist nationwide.Warehouse workers, short-haul truck drivers, and professional cheerleaders are all fighting for restitution for wage theft, among other groups of workers.

Recently two former McDonald’s managers spoke out about the wage theft at that company. They said, for example, they inserted unpaid breaks that workers did not take into a company computer system to bring down labor costs; moved hours from one week to the next to avoid paying workers overtime; and made illegal deductions for uniforms from workers’ checks.

“I think the worst thing that I was ever asked to do would be to adjust a person’s time,” said Kwanza Brooks, who was a manager at McDonald’s restaurants in North Carolina and Maryland for 12 years. “That’s the worst. Because they did they work, they were there, and they deserved to get paid for what they did. It’s a job. That’s not right. It’s not fair.”

This video of the former managers is on lowpayisnotok.org:

Crackdown

In New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been engaged in a crackdown on wage theft. Last month the owner of seven McDonald’s outlets agreed to pay a half-million dollars to employees to more than 1,600 current and former employees who were made to work “off the clock.” They were also made to work more than the 40 hours that in New York trigger overtime pay, but were not paid overtime.

A week later, six owners of 23 Domino’s Pizza locations agreed to pay workers back wages of almost a half-million dollars for paying workers less than the $5.65 New York “tipped” minimum wage and not paying overtime for working more than 40 hours.

Common Wage Theft Examples

Common methods of wage theft, beyond such tactics as marking employees as being on breaks when they are not, include:

  • Misclassification. Calling an employee an independent contractor is a common wage (and benefit) theft technique.
  • Working off the clock: A person is supposed to be paid beginning at the time the employee enters the workplace. Changing into work uniforms, being searched, being transported to a separate worksite and similar activities are part of the job and not getting paid for this is wage theft. So is requiring worksite preparation or cleanup to be done before or after clocking in. Working through break time without being paid is also wage theft.
  • Stealing overtime pay. This can happen in a number of ways. The most common is making employees go “off the clock” after they are done with their regular work hours. So is classifying a worker as “exempt” (in other words, as a supervisor or manager, even though the job itself is not supervisory or managerial) and a number of other scams.
  • Deductions from pay. Employees are charged for required dorm living, electricity or other work-related items.

What To Do

This is from the National Consumers League:

For more information, or to learn whether you’ve been a victim of wage theft please contact the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division at www.wagehour.dol.gov or the Department of Labor Employment Laws Advisors at http://www.dol.gov/elaws/advisors.html and/or call the toll-free information and helpline, available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in your time zone, 1-866- 4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243). You can also contact your state department of labor or employment and/or a local workers center.

From the Department of Labor: How to File a Complaint,

If you have questions or concerns, you can contact us at 1-866-487-9243 or visit www.wagehour.dol.gov. You will be directed to the nearest WHD office for assistance. There are over 200 WHD offices throughout the country with trained professionals to help you. The information below is useful to file a complaint with WHD:

  • Your name
  • Your address and phone number (how you can be contacted)
  • The name of the company where you work(ed)
  • Location of the company (this maybe different from where you worked)
  • Phone number of the company
  • Manager or owners name (who should we ask to speak to?)
  • Type of work you did
  • How and when you were paid (i.e. cash or check, every Friday)

Any additional information that you can provide such as copies of pay stubs, personal records of hours worked, or other information on your employers pay practices are helpful.

All services are free and confidential, whether you are documented or not. Please remember that your employer cannot terminate you or in any other manner discriminate against you for filing a complaint with WHD.

This Is Legal?

Also, the federal minimum wage for “tipped employees” is $2.13 an hour. That’s legal wage theft. That’s the result of restaurant lobbyists rigging the system by buying themselves almost-free labor.

We can begin to right this wrong by fighting to increase the minimum wage.

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