What is wage theft?
Wage theft is the illegal withholding of contractually promised wages.
Common forms of wage theft include, non-payment of overtime, not giving workers their last paycheck, not paying for all the hours worked, not paying minimum wage, and even not paying a worker at all (such as when you’re asked to stay and clean-up after you have clocked out.)
What laws are broken in wage theft cases?
Most commonly wage theft is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which provides for a federal minimum wage and allows states to set their own (higher) minimum wage, and requires employers to pay time and a half for all hours worked above 40 hours per week.
Who can I contact if I’ve been a victim of wage theft?
The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is in charge of investigating wage theft violations. However, the systematic budget cuts and lack of adequate staffing in the department has led to an 8-10 month waiting period before a wage theft investigation can even start.
In Florida, there are only six Wage and Hour investigators for the entire state (this means one investigator for every 1.2 million workers.)
The Task Force is working to pass a Wage Recovery Ordinance to give workers in Alachua County an alternative. With an ordinance in place, the county would have the power to enforce wage theft violations through a claim and mediation process that would be established in the Office of Equal Opportunity.
In what types of workplace or industry does wage theft occur?
Wage theft is endemic, and no group of workers is immune, including workers earning good wages. It is more likely to occur in non-union workplaces. Union workers generally receive pay according to their negotiated contract, and any wage theft would be challenged by the union. Immigrant and native born workers alike have their wages stolen, though low wage workers are particularly vulnerable.
Agriculture, poultry processing, janitorial services, restaurant work, garment manufacturing, long term care, home health care and retail are the industries with the most reported cases of wage theft.
What are the consequences of wage theft to the community?
Wage theft impacts a worker’s pocket first, especially those who are most vulnerable (low-income earners) and most dependent on a steady paycheck to cover basic necessities. Being a victim of wage theft is not an individual problem. The ripple effect to the community include:
- Wage theft causes psychological and emotional stress for an individual and their family
- An individual’s diminished spending power affects local businesses and services that depend on timely payments to operate.
- Increases probability of individuals to depend on public assistance
- Employers who engage in wage theft have an unfair advantage over business owners who play by the rules and pay their workers what they are owed. This can lead to outside businesses underbidding local businesses on contracts at the expense of employee’s wages and the local economy.
- Tax revenue may be decreased through employee misclassification or paying employees “under the table.”
Is a Wage Recovery Ordinance added regulation for business owners?
No. A WRO does not create any new laws and is in no way added regulation on businesses. Businesses already must abide by federal and state laws that set wage standards for them and their employees. An ordinance will help ensure these laws are being followed through a simple mediation process that rewards responsible businesses and gives offenders a fair, unbiased chance to comply. If you are playing by the rules, you have nothing to worry about. But even if there is a legitimate claim filed against an employer, the process will potentially SAVE businesses the costs associated with small claim courts, which is one of the only other alternatives to filing a claim with the Department of Labor. There is no added fee to employers who choose to solve wage theft violation claims in a timely manner. An employee must have evidence to file such a claim and there is no chance for frivolous claims to be made against employers. We hope to use this new service, not as a road block for businesses, but as an opportunity to identify struggling businesses who might need the county’s help and guide them to existing services. In the end, this will improve the business environment in our community.
What can we do to prevent and end wage theft in Alachua County?
Pass a Wage Recovery Ordinance similar to the ones that have already been passed in Miami-Dade county in 2010 and Broward county in 2012. This ordinance, which allows the county to investigate wage theft claims and recover wages for employees at the local level, have already helped recover over half a million dollars in stolen wages in Miami-Dade in the two years of its implementation. Moreover, they have acted as a small economic stimulus to the area, which is expected to see another record year of tourism and economic recovery. The prevention and elimination of wage theft will not only help establish a fair and lawful employee-employer relationship, but it will help stamp out unfair competition to ensure our local businesses’ success.
How can I get involved in this campaign?
There are a few ways residents of Alachua County can make a positive difference in this campaign:
- Attend our bi-weekly meetings. Our next meeting is on Sunday, February 17th at 5:30PM at the Alachua County Labor Party Office (14 E. University Ave., #204)
- Call or email our County Commissioners to tell them you strongly support a Wage Recovery Ordinance (These calls/letters make a difference!)
Commission Office Phone: (352) 264-6900
Alachua County Board of County Commissioners
12 SE 1st Street
Gainesville, FL 32601
- If you are in his district, call/email/contact Keith Perry to tell him you strongly support a Wage Recovery Ordinance and are disappointed in his opposition to an ordinance that will guarantee fairness for both workers and businesses.
Representative Keith Perry
2440 Southwest 76th Street
Gainesville, FL 32608-0345
Phone: (352) 313-6544