What’s “wage theft?” Chances are it’s happened to you.
Wage theft describes any situation where workers don’t receive their legally or contractually promised wages. This could be non-payment of overtime, not getting a last paycheck, not paying for all hours work, not paying minimum wage, or even not paying at all.
If you’ve ever had to do additional work after punching out, or worked through a lunch break but still got a lunch hour deducted, you’ve been a victim of wage theft.
It’s illegal. But because of weak enforcement – and often lack of collective bargaining – employers get away with it all the time.
We asked our members for their experiences with wage theft. Here are 16 stories.
I worked for a company that had a 3 week training course. With class permission, management squeezed it into a two week class with the addition of two Saturday sessions which the 30 member class would each be paid overtime. It took me six months to get that money. By then, every other person in my class had quit their job.
My daughter works at a salon on the Las Vegas strip. As an assistant she does many tasks, one of them being giving hair treatments to clients. She does the service and the hairdresser takes the commission. They are stealing the money for the work she did. This is something she has been paid for in the past at the same salon but they just now decided it should go to the hairdresser! Shouldn’t the hairdresser have to do the work for that commission as well?
When I worked at a restaurant, the owner kept everyone’s tips for herself — to pay for her daughter’s private school tuition, she explained.
-Bradley, New York
Once my paycheck bounced because the owner of a security business in California bought a Porsche with the company payroll. They froze my accounts. Checks bounced.
I worked at a cafeteria where the boss decided how much time the thought our job “should” take us. At the end of the week, he’d simply cross out the number of hours recorded on the punch clock, and write in the lower number.
-Sam, New York
I had gotten my paycheck on a debit card from work. About a month ago I lost the card – it still had 160 dollars on it. I sent in for a new one i got one without the money.
Nurses work unpaid hours every day. The workload is so heavy and structured in such a way that you can’t just leave when your shift is over, all your tasks have to be done. Unpaid overtime between 20 minutes up to an hour and a half is common. People leave the profession altogether which is why we import nurses from other countries. It’s brutal and leads to serious errors and patient safety is compromised. When someone dies as a result it is covered up to protect the facility. The public has no idea.
I’m a teacher and so is my husband. One time he kept up with how many hours he worked in a year and it was more than twice his contracted time! We also have 5 snow days “built in” to the calendar. If we don’t use them,that time is not subtracted nor do we get them off. So basically we work an entire week for free.
At some of my former schools, I had to stay late to babysit kids whose parents wouldn’t pick them up on time and also, I had to go in on a Saturday to supervise students in detention – unpaid.. Seems like parents just get free babysitters to me and then I’m taken away from my family on my personal time. Glad I don’t work those places anymore.
As a waitress we had to stay after closing and clean for free. No wages, not even the minimum wage, for waitresses.Vacuuming, washing tables, chairs, sweeping, filling salt and pepper shakers and condiments. As a single mom, I put up with it to keep my job. They knew I needed to work.
I went to work as a waitress in a hotel in the early hours of a blizzard that brought the city to a halt on Christmas eve. I worked from about 6 a.m. until about 2 a.m. the next day, then got to sleep on a meeting room floor. While I made great tips that day, management decided they would only pay us for eight hours instead of the twenty or more we worked. Then they had the audacity to write me up in April for a ticket that went missing on that Christmas eve. Three waitresses, one supervisor, one busboy and two hundred guest rooms occupied by people who had no place they could go except the dining room. They did close for two hours in the afternoon so we could clean, restock and get a bite to eat. I put up and shut up to keep that damn job.
I worked for seven years as a custodian and worked many hours without pay. Since they have the job set up so the tasks can’t be done in the paid hours, to keep a job you had to work over your assigned hours.
In Georgia, you can be fired for anything or nothing, needless to say, you can’t go on like that for ever, so I was fired in the end for nothing. That’s why I believe so strongly in the benefits of having a union.
I worked at a restaurant and hurt my knee on the job. First off, my manager on duty did not file the paperwork for workman’s compensation to pay for the surgery it took to fix my meniscus. So I am paying for it slowly myself. Then, upon my release from my knee doctor, my general manager demanded a note from my psychiatrist stating I was able to work because I am bipolar. Upon explaining to him I was out of work for my knee not my mental problems he told me it didn’t matter, that for his piece of mind he would not let me back until I had a note from the psychiatrist. I debated this with him for some time but eventually felt so humiliated because of my mental health becoming such an issue to him and management in general, I quit. Leaving a job I had been at for almost a year and missing out on the really good pay I made there. I truly feel they stole wages from me.
When my husband worked for a supermarket chain at close to minimum wage, it was mandated that he punch out at “quitting time” and then go to the parking lot to round up the shopping carts until every last one was collected – even those for shoppers rung up after closing time.
I worked in a dental office until recently putting in sometimes over one hundred hours a pay check and got paid straight time for all of it instead of overtime. As long as we didn’t say anything we could work all the hours we wanted. I’m a single mom and put up with it to keep my job. I would love to know if anything can be done to get back what is owed.
-Beth, New Jersey
I experienced wage theft many times, but my union made sure we filed a grievance and I was eventually paid. When I worked for the Federal courts they had comp time, which you had to beg to get and if not used immediately would become history. I got sick of donating my time so I quit. APWU rocks!
And the other side of the coin:
I don’t want to lose my job by telling my story.
If you have a story of wage theft you’d like to share, text WAGETHEFT to 30644 or leave it in the comments below. We won’t share your full name or the names of any companies.