Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay a worker the wages that they are entitled to under state and federal wage laws. These may include issues such as:

  • Paying an employee too low of a rate
  • Minimum wage violations
  • Misclassification of an employee
  • Illegal deductions
  • Withholding of overtime rates, bonuses, commissions, or benefits

Wage and hour disputes are among the most common types of employment law cases. Every year, many wage theft cases go unreported or undiscovered, resulting in millions in losses to workers. Cases that extend over long periods of time can result in large losses to the worker.

What Are Some Remedies for Wage Theft?

Wage theft violations are generally reviewed by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD). This is a division of the government that investigates wage disputes and prescribes possible remedies for the situation. Remedies can include:

  • Payment of back wages
  • Requirements that the employer change their wage policies

Intentional or willful violations may also result in criminal consequences, such as fines of up to $10,000 and possible imprisonment (especially for repeat offenses). Violations of child labor laws can result in fines of up to $11,000. In some cases, a wage dispute can also involve other damages, such as those related to lost business opportunities or lost profits. These may require additional legal action or a separate lawsuit.

When filing with the WHD or when filing a private lawsuit, you may need to compile various documents to be used for the claim. These can include paystubs, employment contracts, witness statements, and any other document that might help prove your case.

What If the Wage Theft Is Involves an Aspect of Discrimination?

Many wage theft cases can involve aspects of employment discrimination. For instance, a common violation is where one group of workers is paid a lower wage in comparison with another group, based on race, sex, age, or other "protected categories. These types of cases may still involve a wage dispute aspect, but they are likely going to be reviewed by the EEOC. You may wish to check with a lawyer to determine which agency should hear your claim, or whether you should file a private lawsuit for your remedies. Widespread company violations can often require a class action filing.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Wage Theft Remedies?

Remedies for wage theft disputes can often be complex, and may involve a range of very different legal issues. It might be in your best interests to hire an employment law attorney in your area if you need any legal representation or assistance when it comes to wage theft laws. Your attorney can provide you with guidance and advice, and can tell you the proper way to file your claim for relief. In the event that you need to appear in court, your lawyer can help represent you during trial and during court meetings and negotiations.