Wage Theft: What Is It and What Can Be Done About It
What Is Wage Theft?
Wage theft refers to the unlawful practice of employers withholding wages or benefits that are rightfully owed to their employees. This can take many forms, including failing to pay the minimum wage, denying overtime pay, misclassifying employees as independent contractors, failing to provide meal and rest breaks, and other violations of labor laws.
Wage theft has a significant impact on California employees, particularly those who are already vulnerable due to their low income or precarious work status. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, wage theft costs California workers an estimated $2 billion per year. This not only deprives workers of their hard-earned income but also has ripple effects on their families and communities, as they may struggle to make ends meet or fall into poverty.
In response to the problem of wage theft, California has implemented strong labor laws and enforcement mechanisms to protect workers. For example, the state has a minimum wage that is higher than the federal minimum, and employers who violate wage and hour laws can face penalties and fines. Additionally, California has passed laws that give workers the right to take legal action against their employers for wage theft, including class-action lawsuits.
Overall, wage theft is a serious issue that has significant consequences for California employees. It is important for workers to know their rights and to speak out if they believe they have been victims of wage theft.
What Can a Worker Do to Prevent Wage Theft?
There are several things that an employee can do to prevent wage theft:
Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with federal and state labor laws that apply to your job, such as minimum wage and overtime requirements, meal and rest break laws, and anti-discrimination laws.
Keep accurate records: Keep a detailed record of your work hours, wages, and benefits. Make sure to keep track of your pay stubs, time cards, and any other documents that show your work hours and earnings.
Speak up: If you notice that you are not being paid correctly, bring it to your employer's attention. This could be a simple mistake that can be easily rectified. If your employer is unwilling to correct the issue, you can file a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner or you can recover wages through a traditional civil action filed in state court. Either way, the best way to speak up is to send something in writing—either a text message or an email. This will prevent the employer from denying any knowledge that you were not paid correctly.
Seek legal assistance: If you believe that you have been a victim of wage theft, you can seek legal assistance from an attorney who specializes in employment law. They can help you understand your legal options and file a lawsuit against your employer if necessary.
Join a union: Consider joining a union that represents workers in your industry. Unions can provide legal support, collective bargaining power, and other resources that can help protect workers from wage theft.
By taking these steps, employees can help prevent wage theft and ensure that they are receiving the wages and benefits that they are entitled to under the law.
What Evidence Does a Worker Need to Prove Wage Theft
If an employee suspects that they have been a victim of wage theft, they may need to gather evidence to support their claim. The type of evidence that is needed will depend on the specific circumstances of the case, but some examples of evidence that may be useful include:
Pay stubs: Pay stubs can provide important information about an employee's hours worked, rate of pay, and deductions. Make sure to keep all pay stubs that you receive from your employer.
Time cards: If your employer requires you to clock in and out, time cards can be used to show the hours that you worked.
Work schedules: If your employer has a schedule or assigns you shifts, make sure to keep a record of your schedule. This can be used to show the hours that you were supposed to work.
Emails or text messages: If you have communication with your employer that shows the hours that you worked or the rate of pay that you were promised, make sure to save those emails or text messages.
Witnesses: If there are other employees who can corroborate your claims about wage theft, make sure to get their contact information.
Employment contracts or agreements: If you have a written agreement with your employer that sets out your wages and benefits, make sure to keep a copy of the agreement.
Overall, any documentation that shows the hours that you worked, the rate of pay that you were promised, or the benefits that you were entitled to can be used as evidence of wage theft. If you are unsure about what evidence you need, you can consult with an attorney or the California Labor Commissioner's office for guidance.
What Are a Worker’s Options for Recovering Unpaid Wages?
There are several options for recovering unpaid wages. Here are some of the most common:
File a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner: If you believe that your employer owes you unpaid wages, you can file a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner. The labor commissioner's office has the authority to investigate and resolve wage claims.
File a lawsuit in court: If the amount of unpaid wages is significant, or if the labor commissioner is unable to resolve the wage claim, you may need to file a lawsuit in court. This can allow you to seek a wider range of damages, including punitive damages.
Seek legal assistance: If you decide to file a lawsuit, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from an attorney who specializes in employment law. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options and can represent you in court.
File a class action lawsuit: If multiple employees have been affected by wage theft, they may be able to join a class action lawsuit. This can allow them to pool their resources and increase their bargaining power.
Seek assistance from a union: If you are a union member, you may be able to seek assistance from your union in recovering unpaid wages. Unions can provide legal support, collective bargaining power, and other resources that can help protect workers from wage theft.
Overall, the best option for recovering unpaid wages will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. It is recommended that you seek legal advice to understand your legal options and choose the best course of action.
About Olsen Law Offices, APC
Olsen Law Offices specializes in employment litigation in all areas of employment law. Olsen Law Offices has extensive experience litigating matters concerning wrongful termination, retaliation, harassment and hostile work environment, work place defamation, gender discrimination, race discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, and disability discrimination. Moreover, Olsen Law Offices has extensive experience in wage and hour cases as single-employee cases, class actions, and actions under the Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”).