Wage Theft

Millions of dollars are stolen from the hard workers of Florida every year. But this theft isn’t carried out by scammers or strong-arm thieves. It’s perpetuated by employers.

It’s called wage theft, and Jacobs Keeley Trial Lawyers are committed to fighting for the rights of Florida’s workforce.

Wage theft is an unscrupulous business practice defined as workers not receiving wages they are legally owed. Some examples include:

  • Unpaid overtime
  • Failure to pay at least minimum wage
  • Requiring work during meal breaks
  • Misclassification of employees as independent contractors
  • Forcing employees to work off-the-clock
  • Altering pay stubs or time cards
  • Illegally deducting money from workers’ pay
  • Paying employees late
  • Not paying employees at all

While we like to think of wage theft as an issue affecting a small percentage of employees working for a few “bad apple” companies, the reality is it is a huge problem in Florida affecting thousands of workers. The statistics we have are likely lower than the actual amount because employees either aren’t aware they’re being taken or afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they report it.

The problem has been exacerbated by a struggling economy, as businesses tend to have reduced fear of sanctions. They know workers have fewer options, and therefore the balance of power is tipped in their favor.

Miami-Dade County took a firm stance on the issue in 2010, when commissioners passed an ordinance effectively prohibiting wage theft with the “Wage Theft Ordinance.” The measure bolsters worker protections already outlined at the state and federal level.

To understand the scope of the problem, we look to the recent report published by the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy Center for Labor Research and Studies at Florida International University. The institute reported:

  • On average, more than 3,035 wage violations are reported each year to the U.S. Department of Wage and Hour Division in Florida.
  • More than $28 million of unpaid wages were recovered over the course of just two years by the U.S. Department of Wage and Hour Division in Florida, Miami’s Wage Theft Ordinance and several community groups.
  • From the time the Miami Wage Theft Ordinance was enacted in 2010 through mid-2012, authorities recovered $400,000 in unpaid wages on behalf of 313 workers.
  • The most common industries for wage theft are tourism, retail trade and construction.
  • The average recovery per employee is $650 per claim, which equals more than one full week’s pay for someone earning $15 hourly, and more than two weeks for someone earning minimum wage.

These actions not only impact workers and their families, they offer dishonest businesses an unfair competitive advantage against other companies that strive to do it right and treat workers fairly.

Although it tends to occur most frequently to those in lower-pay positions, it can happen to almost anyone. In fact, a 2008 study by the National Employment Law Project surveyed nearly 4,400 workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and found nearly 7 in 10 had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week.

Wage Theft Protections

The primary federal law designed to protect workers from wage theft is the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was passed in 1938. The law specifically requires:

  • Employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage (set at $7.25 in 2014; Florida minimum wage in 2014 was $7.93);
  • Requires employers to pay workers overtime for hours worked over the standard work week (set at 1.5 times the regular wage for more than 40 hours worked, with a few exceptions);
  • Mandates companies keep accurate records of all hours worked and wages paid;
  • Restricts child labor.

Unfortunately, the law is only applicable to companies that engage in interstate commerce, produce goods for interstate commerce, handle, sell or work on materials or goods that are produced for interstate commerce and generally have a $500,000 annual threshold. It doesn’t cover government, school or hospital workers, those employed at small, local companies or contractors for bigger firms.

And enforcement is lacking. A June 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office of the Miami’s Wage and Hour Office revealed numerous unreturned phone calls and an investigator who told an undercover regulator that the backlog would result in an 8-to-10-month delay in the launch of a new investigation. As of 2012, there were six investigators in the office for the entire state of Florida.

This is why victims of wage theft must contact an experienced employment attorney in Miami. When regulators and employers know you are well-represented by a firm prepared to take your case to court, you are more likely to get results.

Miami-Dade Wage Theft Ordinance

Miami-Dade County commissioners in 2010 passed the Wage Theft Ordinance.

Unlike the federal law, it applies to all private employees with employers who perform work within the geographical boundaries of Miami-Dade – regardless of the physical location of the employer.

The stated purpose of the law is to:

  • Eliminate underpayment or nonpayment of wages.
  • Eliminate unfair competition by unscrupulous businesses.
  • Relieve the public burden of subsidizing employees of unscrupulous businesses.

If a company is found to be in violation, either by a hearing examiner or judge in a competent jurisdiction, the employer will have to pay back wages, attorney’s fees and liquidated damages.

Applicable claims have to meet the following criteria:

  • Work was performed in Miami-Dade County.
  • Amount of wage theft exceeds $60.
  • Victim was an employee of the business.
  • Work was performed within the last calendar year.

Our experienced wage theft lawyers in Miami can help you submit your claim and determine whether there are any other options for recovery of damages.

Contact the Miami Employment Attorneys at Jacobs Keeley Trial Lawyers for a confidential appointment to discuss your rights.

Call us at (305) 358-7991.

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