Wage Theft Is A Serious Problem In The United States

One of the most interesting courses I took in college and post graduate was a course in employment law. While just taking one law course hardly makes me an expert on any matter of the law, it did teach me that there are a host of laws and regulations in the workplace and that it can be easy for an employer to ignore or violate one of those laws.

My first experience with labor laws was back when I was managing a field office for a large insurance company and my district manager had threatened the agents to withhold their paychecks if they did not submit a report of their activity to the manager. Outside my office was the poster that is required to be posted in all workplaces regarding wage and hour laws. One of my agents called me outside of my office and showed me a part on that poster that said it was illegal for any employer to withhold an employee’s pay check except in rare cases.

After calling to verify the truth of that, I was told that the employee only had to file a complaint to the Department of Labor and that the employer could be forced to pay triple damages to the aggrieved employee as well as a fine. I was also told that even if the paycheck was withheld only one day, it could result in a fine being levied on the employer. When I informed my district manager of this, he had to back off that threat.

Several years ago, the nation's largest private employer, Walmart, was charged by the Wage and Hour division of the Department of Labor with forcing its employees to work “off the clock” to avoid having to pay overtime pay. Working “off the clock” meant that the hourly workers were still on the job, but were just not being recorded as working. Not only were those workers not paid overtime, they were not paid for the hours they worked “off the clock.” The company was fined and the affected workers were compensated.

Very often the lowest wage earners are the victims of wage theft by their employer. Not only being forced to work “off the clock” but also being denied overtime pay and under-reporting of their actual hours worked is rampant in some industries such as food services, hospitality, child care and retailing. Also, many workers are also paid less than the minimum wage.

The National Employment Law Project surveyed low-wage workers in three cities across the country, and found that 26 percent of workers surveyed were paid less than minimum wage the previous week, and 76 percent of those who had worked more than 40 hours were not paid the legally-required overtime. And when workers file a complaint, they often face harsh retaliation from employers. Most workers who are being taken advantage of don’t speak up, for fear of having their hours cut or being fired.

Short of having a labor union to protect the worker’s rights, there is little a worker could to other than to quit the job or file a complaint and risk being fired for filing a complaint. One thing I did learn in that employment law class was that no one can be denied their basic right to address a government agency regarding a suspected violation of any law or regulation. Employers who retaliate against any worker who files a complaint to a government agency over anything in the workplace, whether it is about safety, environmental or wage issues can be sued in court.

But filing a complaint or even pursuing a lawsuit is a long and costly process that few low wage workers can afford. Fortunately, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is co-sponsoring with Washington Senator Patty Murray a bill in the Senate, the Wage Theft and Recovery Act.

The bill would create new civil penalties for employers who engage in wage theft, and give workers the right to receive full back pay for the wages that were stolen. Right now, even when employers are caught stealing wages, employees are only able to recover lost pay at the minimum wage rate, even if their hourly rate is higher than that. 

That’s not right. When a worker's wages are stolen from them, they should be repaid in full. 

To help make sure that happens, the bill also increases the number of years workers have to bring a wage theft claim in court. And it would require employers to provide regular paystubs, so workers can keep track of the pay they’ve earned, and more easily catch potential theft.

This bill deserves our support and we should thank Senator Brown for introducing such legislation. Every worker deserves to be paid an honest wage for an honest day’s work.

Lee Kamps

Lee has been working with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance since he began working at the Erie County Welfare Department in January 1973 where a major part of his job was determining eligibility for Medicaid. He went into the private insurance business in 1977 with Prudential Insurance Company and within a short time had become one of the company’s top sales agents. In 1982, he was promoted into management where he managed two field offices and as many as thirteen sales agents. After leaving Prudential in 1986, Lee decided to become more focused on health insurance and employee benefits. He has advised many local employers on how to have a more cost effective employee benefit program as well as conducted employee benefit meetings and enrollments for many area employers. The companies Lee has worked with ranged from small “mom and pop” businesses to local operations of large national companies. Lee received his B.S. degree from Kent State University where he has been active in the local alumni association. He has completed seven of the ten courses toward the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation. He has taught courses in employee benefits and insurance at Cleveland State University and local community colleges. In addition, Lee is an experienced and accomplished public speaker. He has been a member of Toastmasters International where he achieved the designation of “Able Toastmaster – Silver” in 1994. He has also served as a club president, Area Governor and District Public Relations Officer in Toastmasters as well as winning local speech contests. Lee has also been a member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Speaker’s Bureau where he was designated as one of the “official spokespeople for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” prior to the hall’s opening in 1995. He has given talks and presentations before many audiences including civic organizations, AARP chapters and many other community groups. With the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill) in 2006, Lee has shifted his focus to Medicare and helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the often confusing array of choices and plans available. As an independent representative, Lee is not bound to any one specific company or plan, but he can offer a plan that suits an individual person’s needs and budget. In addition, Lee is well versed in the requirements and availability of various programs for assistance with Medicare part D as well as Medicaid. While he cannot make one eligible, he can assist in the process and steer one to where they may be able to receive assistance.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 4:37 PM, 04.06.2016