Why Does Wage Theft Happen?

Each instance of wage theft has a different motivation. Sometimes, when it is intentional, it is done to increase profits for the business, while at other times it may just be an honest mistake.

Many states are employee-friendly, which typically means they enforce rules related to overtime pay, minimum wages and the requirement to provide mandatory breaks.

This means that employees can at least negotiate their conditions when starting a job with a new employer. Unfortunately, not all businesses are honest when it comes to paying their employees.

Some are guilty of violating wage and hour laws which means wage theft has most likely taken place.

Unintentional vs. Intentional Violations

It is an employer’s legal obligation to obey any state and federal rules and regulations when hiring, managing and paying its employees.

If it fails to do this then employees affected by the wage theft may have the right to file a lawsuit to get their wage theft paid and ask for compensation from the employer for the pain and suffering endured due to the wage theft. Unintentional violations are considered to be acts of negligence while intentional violations are crimes.

Regardless if it was intentional or not, the employer may face penalties for breaching the law. An accidental violation could lead to a lawsuit filed by the employee against the employer so that the unpaid wages are paid and other compensation is paid also to the employees.

An intentional violation may be a crime so the employer must pay restitution to the affected workers. An attorney may assist employees to seek compensation for intentional or unintentional violations.

What to Do if You Believe You Are a Victim of Wage Theft

There are several types of wage theft including:

  • not paying the minimum wage;
  • asking an employee to do extra work before and after the normal work day and not being paid;
  • not being paid time and a half for overtime which is paid for any hours worked in a week over 40;
  • failure to pay for all the hours worked;
  • not paying the employee at all.

If one of these has happened to you it is important to provide as much evidence as possible that proves it is wage theft.

However if you think that the wage theft was an honest mistake, then you should inform the HR and request that the money be paid as soon as possible.

If there is no response, or HR disputes your claim, then you will need to take the matter up with the Wages and Hours Division of the Department of Labor in your state.

They will assess your evidence that proves wage theft and appoint an investigator to approach your employer about this matter. If you think it is intentional, speak with an employment law professional to help.

How a Professional Can Help

An experienced professional employment attorney can help you compile the evidence which proves you are a victim of wage theft. The sorts of evidence you will need to support your wage theft claim may include any of the following:

  • pay stubs covering several weeks;
  • your timesheet;
  • your own timekeeping record;
  • any written agreement between you and your employer showing the amount you should be paid;
  • testimonials from co-workers performing the same job as you describing your wage theft.

Your professional help may try to resolve the matter by mediation that takes place between you and your employer. If this doesn’t work and the Department of Labor has had no luck resolving the wage theft, then your next step is filing a lawsuit.

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Typically, the way a claim is filed is through a complaint, which is drafted by your attorney and once you have reviewed it, it is filed in court.

After the complaint has been filed, the attorney has it served on your employer, who is then told to file an “answer.”

If the employee does not answer within the time given to do so, the court might award judgment to you the employee. If the employer answers it will either admit or deny the allegations in your complaint.

There are some cases where employers come up with lame excuses, like claiming that the employee agreed to be paid below the state or federal minimum wage or even agreed to forfeit the overtime rate after more than 40 hours has been worked.

 Once the case has been through all the legal stages the compensation may include back pay which is the amount owed due to the wage theft, plus liquidated damages which are equal to the amount of back pay, court and attorney’s fees.

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