Wage theft is a widespread issue in America. Unfortunately, it’s an issue that not many people are talking about.
What is wage theft? In the simplest terms – It’s what happens when workers don’t receive the pay to which they are entitled. Pretty simple, right? Well, if we go a little deeper we see there are several types of wage theft: not giving a worker their last paycheck after the worker leaves a job, not paying for all the hours worked, not paying appropriate overtime, and paying less than minimum wage.
Shockingly, between two and three million workers are paid less than minimum wage and companies steal close to 10 billion dollars annually in unpaid overtime. That’s BILLION, with a “B.”
Who’s at risk for wage theft? Everyone is, but it most frequently affects low wage workers – those workers who are already struggling to pay their bills and who can least afford the lost pay. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) found in a recent study that 17-18 percent of U.S. born workers were victims of wage theft, but that number jumps to a staggering 29-47 percent when talking about undocumented workers. And what does this mean for these families? Homes are lost, bills can’t be paid, children can’t be fed, and more and more people end up requiring federal assistance.
John, a New Mexico Working America member, was a truck driver for 30 years and battled wage theft constantly. “Because of our shaky economy, some employers will take advantage in any way possible, including stealing from their own employees. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
In 2009, New Mexico passed a bill (HB 489) intended to protect workers from wage theft. In addition to preventing retaliation towards employees who file wage theft claims, it extends the statute of limitations for wage theft claims and penalizes bad employers by making them pay triple what they owe, if violations are found. New Mexico’s Workforce Solutions is responsible for investigating claims and involving prosecutors to take appropriate actions against unscrupulous employers.
So what’s the problem? We’ve found that although the law is a good one, people still don’t know what their rights are or are afraid of retaliation, so they don’t pursue compensation. And even still, some of those who attempt to file claims with the Department of Labor are turned away, being told that not all claims will be investigated.
We must also be vigilant about ensuring that wages are paid fairly and education about our rights is the first step.
- Your employer must pay you the state or federal minimum wage.
- If you are a non-exempt employee working over 40 hours in a seven day work week, you are entitled to overtime pay.
- If you leave a job, you are entitled to a final paycheck.
For more information, call our office at (505) 255-2127 or email us at email@example.com.