When you think of theft, you likely imagine someone physically taking something from your possession. Therefore, you might not consider that your employer failing to pay you what they should as theft.
However, there are several ways that an employer can steal from an employee, and unless you’re vigilant, you could be losing thousands of dollars.
What is wage theft?
Wage theft occurs when the employer fails to pay wages or provide benefits owed to an employee by law. Wage theft can take various forms, including:
- Misclassifying employees as independent contractors. Done to avoid paying them overtime or providing benefits, such as sick leave or paid time off.
- Failing to give required breaks. California’s Department of Industrial Relations states that employees must get two paid 10-minute breaks for every four hours worked.
- Making illegal deductions from wages. Such as charging employees for damages, shortages or loss of company property.
- Paying less than the minimum wage. It increases to $16.00 per hour beginning January 1, 2024.
While wage theft can occur in any industry, it’s more prevalent in some, such as:
- Restaurants where employers fail to pay overtime or where they take a portion of the employees’ tips.
- Construction where employees are purposely misclassified as contractors, so they don’t receive overtime pay or benefits.
- Retail employees are sometimes forced to work off the clock, or they may have illegal deductions taken from their pay for register shortages or damaged merchandise.
- Agriculture, where workers, who are often seasonal and migratory, are frequently victims of wage theft. They typically work long hours without overtime pay and make less than minimum wage.
These are all industries that usually employ undocumented immigrants or other low-income people.
If you suspect your employer is stealing your wages, it’s crucial to document your hours worked and paycheck amounts. Reach out to someone who can help you get the money you earned.