If you’re like many other people, you automatically defer to people who are in a position of authority. You tend to trust that they’re telling you the truth, and know what they’re doing in general. But did you know that employees lose billions of dollars a year in stolen wages? It’s a far larger problem than anyone seems to realize. If you suspect your employer is cheating you out of proper pay, keep reading.
What Constitutes Wage Theft?
The specifics of any given situation will vary, but there are several different red flags that might indicate wage theft. The very first thing to deduce is if you’re being paid the minimum wage as mandated by state and/or federal law. If you’re not, this is a sure sign of wage theft. Some employers also try to convince you you’re an independent contractor when you’re really not.
Wage theft occurs when you’re not paid for your overtime. If you work more than 40 hours per week and are not compensated for it, that’s theft. Also inspect any paystubs and pay close attention to any deductions that were made. If money is being deducted for reasons that are unclear, it could be theft.
A lot of cases of wage theft happen when an employer fails to give an employee their final paycheck. Whether you quit on the spot or were unceremoniously fired, you’re still entitled to the wages you earned, sometimes within a specific timeframe.
Keep a meticulous record of your hours on the clock. So much wage theft involves simply not getting paid for the number of hours you worked.
How to Proceed
If you feel like you’re the victim of wage theft, speak up immediately. You should first approach your employer for an explanation. Try to avoid getting angry or making accusations, and stick to the questions you have about your pay. There may be an honest error on their part or yours which can be resolved quickly.
If any discrepancies aren’t acknowledged or resolved, it’s time to lawyer up. You can hire a lawyer for wage theft who specializes in labor law. They’ll be fully apprised of what laws are in place to protect you, and can help you file a wage claim.
One important thing to keep in mind is that you can still work for your employer during this time. It’s illegal for an employer to “punish” you in any way for filing a claim. That is to say, they must provide a valid reason (NOT related to your claim) for any actions they take that can be considered retaliatory, discriminatory, or intimidating.
Such behavior may involve a reduction in benefits, a demotion, a decrease in hours or wages, or firing you altogether.
If you suspect they’re doing so, it’s critical that you report this to your attorney. Evidence is best gathered and action is best taken as soon as possible.
What’s holding you back from claiming what you’re owed? As a worker, the law is often on your side. If your employer isn’t paying you in accordance with the law, it’s time to fight for what’s right. No matter how much or little you make, the fruits of your labor are worth protecting.