Wage theft is a serious problem throughout the United States. It affects employees in many industries, including the construction industry, both commercial and residential.
Billions of dollars are lost to wage theft, much of which gets unreported. It occurs more often with residential construction workers, employees who are not unionized and immigrant laborers.
How Does Wage Theft Occur in the Construction Industry?
Wage theft occurs when a construction worker is not paid the full amount for work which s/he has done. Some of the commonest examples of wage theft include:
- failing to pay the minimum wage which shouldn’t be less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour;
- failing to pay overtime at time and a half for any hours worked per week over 40;
- choosing to treat an employee as a contractor when s/he is not;
- failing to pay for preparation time like collecting tools from a shed;
- making illegal deductions;
- failing to pay any wages at all.
Preventing Wage Theft When Working in the Construction Industry
A lot of wage theft by an employer is deliberate so it is best to prevent it happening rather than complaining when it does take place. Often employers in the construction industry think that employees are too tired to bother to check their pay stubs so they pay less than they should. You can help to prevent wage theft by:
- keeping track of hours worked;
- monitoring pay checks when they arrive;
- checking and comparing pay stubs with co-workers who are doing the same construction job;
- know your rights like the minimum wage;
- don't assume that wage theft takes place accidentally;;
- pay extra attention if you are a vulnerable worker, such as being a temporary migrant.
If your employer is aware that you are keeping track of your pay it may just stop the wage theft altogether.
What to Do If You Experienced Wage Theft in the Construction Industry
The first step you should take is to bring up the matter of unpaid wages with your employer. If he or she responds and says it shouldn’t have happened and your unpaid wages will be paid at the next payment date then the problem is solved.
However, if there is no response to your complaint you cannot ignore the matter as you are the one suffering the most. You should file a complaint with the Wages and Hours Division of the Department of Labor.
They are responsible for handling wage complaints. An officer will be assigned to your case which may first of all result in an attempt at mediation between you and your employer. If this fails but the officer believes you have a valid wage theft case s/he may suggest you file a lawsuit to get your unpaid wages paid.
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If you decide to file a lawsuit you will need to gather all the evidence to support your wage theft claim. This should include:
- The written record you have kept of your hours;
- Your last few pay stubs;
- Dates when the wage theft took place;
- Written accounts from fellow construction workers showing you have been paid less than them despite doing the same amount of work.
If your employer knew s/he was violating the WHD rules, the statute of limitations gives you three years to file a claim. If your employer wasn’t sure about violating the law then you have two years to file an unpaid wages claim.
You should consult an employment attorney to help you through the claims process. Complete the free case evaluation below.