By Frederick H. Lowe
Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from NorthStarNewsToday.com
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Federal and state agencies have recovered $2 billion stolen from workers by employers in 2015 and 2016 through wage theft, and a study by the Economic Policy Institute argues the amount is just a “drop in the bucket” of what has actually been stolen.
The U.S. Department of Labor recovered $246.8 million in 2015 and $266.6 million in 2016 in stolen wages, the EPI, a Washington D.C.-based think tank reported. State departments of labor and attorney generals in 39 states recovered $170.0 million in 2015 and $147.5 million 2016.
Class-action settlements recovered $436.6 million in 2015 and $695.5 million in 2016.
Wages are stolen when employers refuse to pay promised salaries or pay employees for some-not all-of the hours worked and refuse to pay overtime although employees work more than 40 hours a week.
Other instances of wage theft include:
- Minimum wage violations: paying workers less than the legal minimum wage;
- Off-the-clock violations: asking employees to work off the clock before or after their shift begins or ends
- Meal break violations: denying workers their legal meal breaks
- Illegal deductions: taking illegal deductions from wages
- Tipped minimum wages violations: confiscating tips from workers or failing to pay tipped workers the difference between their tips and legal minimum wage
- Employee misclassification violations: Misclassifying employees as independent contractors to pay wages lower than the legal minimum to avoid paying overtime
Wage theft disproportionately affects workers from low-income households, who are already struggling to make ends meet. The loss of wages can be devastating. And these recovery numbers likely under represent dramatically the pervasiveness of wage theft. It has been estimated that low-wage workers lose more than $50 billion annually to wage theft, EPI reported.
A few things that can be done to stop wage theft: Protecting workers’ rights to class action, protecting workers from retaliation and raising the cost to employers for violating the law.