Before discussing the remedies for wage theft, it may be helpful to have a basic understanding of what wage theft is first.
Wage theft is a type of legal action that is usually associated with employment law cases. Specifically, wage theft applies to situations where an employer fails to pay its employees the wages that they are entitled to under both state and federal wage laws.
A claim for wage theft could arise for the following reasons:
- When an employer pays a worker too low of a rate for the work that they finish;
- If the employer violates the minimum wage rate (rates may vary depending on the state);
- When there has been an intentional misclassification of an employee (e.g., saying that an employee is “exempt” from overtime pay, but in reality they are not);
- If there has been an illegal deduction from a worker’s paycheck; or
- When an employer withholds either overtime rates, bonuses, commissions, or various other employee benefits.
As demonstrated by the above list, wage theft covers a broad range of scenarios. In particular, wage and hour disputes are one of the most common claims asserted in a wage theft case and in relation to labor laws.
For every year that a wage theft case is not reported or discovered, it may result in a loss of millions for a business’s workforce. In other words, the longer the issue goes unresolved, the larger amount of losses that an employee will suffer.
This also means, however, that when unlawful wage theft practices continue for an extended amount of time and then do finally get reported or discovered, the employer will be held responsible for paying all of those losses back to its workers.
What are Some Remedies for Wage Theft?
Wage theft violations are generally reviewed by a government agency known as the “Wage and Hour Division (WHD).” The WHD is responsible for investigating wage disputes and offering potential resolutions to remedy an employee’s wage theft matter.
Two common types of remedies include: paying an employee’s back wages and requiring the employer to change their wage policies.
If an employer is intentionally or willfully violating wage theft laws, then they could face criminal penalties, such as having to pay fines of up to $10,000 and possibly having to serve a certain length of time in prison. This is especially true if the employer is a repeat offender, meaning if they have violated these laws more than once.
Violations of child labor laws can also result in fines of up to $11,000. In some cases, a wage dispute will include other damages, such as those related to lost business opportunities or lost profits. In order to collect these additional damages, however, it may require filing an additional legal claim or bringing an entirely separate lawsuit.
When filing wage theft claims with either the WHD or for a private lawsuit, an employee should make sure that they have already compiled certain work documents to use as evidence to support their claim. This can include pay stubs, employment contracts, witness statements, work logs, receipts, and any other documentation that may help them prove their case.
What If a Wage Theft Involves Claims for Employee Discrimination?
Many wage theft cases will involve issues regarding some aspect of discrimination against the business’s employees. For example, one violation that is frequently cited as a discrimination claim in a wage theft case, concerns a scenario in which a particular class of workers receive lower wages than other workers who have the same job.
A claim for discrimination may be added to a wage theft case if an employee can show they were paid less than other workers due to a reason affiliated with what is legally known as “protected categories,” such as race, sex, age, and national origin.
Even though the lawsuit may still include a claim for wage theft violations, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) will almost always be called to investigate the matter when it potentially concerns discriminatory practices.
Additionally, if the discrimination seems to be a widespread matter that affects numerous employees, then they may be required to file a class action to prevent the company from continuing further with such practices, as well as to recover any possible compensatory damages awards.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Wage Theft Remedies?
It is necessary to manage wage theft lawsuits carefully; otherwise, you could be jeopardizing your chances of receiving remedies to offset any of your losses. The best way to ensure that the matter is in fact being handled properly is by hiring a local employment law attorney for assistance.
A qualified employment law attorney can provide many services, such as determining whether state or federal laws apply to your matter, the appropriate government agency to file your claim with, whether or not you have grounds for a claim, and if so, what the possible remedies might be.
Additionally, a lawyer can also help you to prepare your case, gather evidence to support your claim, file required documents with the court, and can provide representation during negotiation meetings, settlement arrangements, and in court if necessary.