Wage theft is a real and persistent problem throughout the United States, robbing individuals and their families of fair pay for the work they’ve done. A recent study put this in perspective by assigning a dollar value to this theft: $50 billion per year. And while that number is staggering, it’s probably much higher, because not all employees know and assert their rights. That’s why our firm is here to help workers reclaim the money that’s all too often stolen from them.

What Is Wage Theft?

Wage theft is deliberately failing to pay employees what the law entitles them to. Because there are a number of different legal protections for employees, there are many different ways that employers break the law and steal from their workers. These are a few of the most common ways that wage theft occurs:

  • Not paying employees for overtime. As a general rule, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires time and a half pay for any hours worked over 40. Employers have devised many schemes to cheat their employees out of overtime, such as averaging hours over more than one week.
  • Improperly trying to exempt an employee from overtime pay. There are exceptions to the FLSA that allow employers to not have to pay some employees for overtime. Some examples are for executive, administrative, and professional workers. However, these are narrowly construed, based largely on the employee’s actual job duty (not just a job title or salary), and often deliberately misused to try to get around the law.
  • Misclassifying employees as independent contractors. This is another common way to avoid paying overtime since independent contractors are not entitled to it. As a general rule, the more control an employer has over the worker’s labor-related activities, the more likely that worker is an employee, not a contractor.
  • Asking employees to work off the clock. Employers routinely shave hours off their employees’ time by asking or requiring them to work before or after shifts, or even during shifts (e.g. unpaid travel time). All work-related duties must be compensated.
  • Automatic break deductions. Many employers also automatically deduct 30 minutes or more each day from their employees for meal breaks. But unless an employee is fully relieved of work duties during a meal break (and being “on call” does not meet this standard), then the meal “break” must count as paid time.

How Much Is Wage Theft Worth?

These forms of wage theft are sadly pervasive throughout the American workforce. And they’re not the only methods that employers have devised to steal from their employees. The problem is that while wage theft is common, it is rarely reported. Employees fear losing their jobs and other retaliation if they take legal action against their employers, often because they do not know or understand that the law prohibits them from being fired or retaliated against for pursuing a wage claim.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that wage theft costs U.S. workers as much as $50 billion per year. Wage theft is more likely to affect low-wage workers, immigrant workers, and workers who have less education and fewer resources. It is also common in the construction industry, where employers misclassify their employees as contractors.

Often, it just takes one whistleblower to put an end to mass forms of wage theft and thereby recover back pay for hundreds and sometimes thousands of workers. Numerous class action lawsuits have been filed and court settlements have been reached because one worker or a small group of them fought back. That’s where our firm comes in.

Are You Being Paid Fairly? Let Our Legal Team Review Your Case

If your situation matches one of the examples above, or you aren’t sure whether your rights are being violated, talk to The Lore Law Firm. You can connect with us by filling out our free and confidential online client intake form. Reach out to us today.

Michael Lore is the founder of The Lore Law Firm. For over 25 years, his law practice and experience extend from representing individuals in all aspects of labor & employment law, with a concentration in class and collective actions seeking to recover unpaid back overtime wages, to matters involving executive severance negotiations, non-compete provisions and serious personal injury (work and non-work related). He has handled matters both in the state and federal courts nationwide as well as via related administrative agencies. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Michael by using our chat functionality.