Employment Rights

Wage theft

Some will rob you with a six gun,
Some with a fountain pen

–Woody Guthrie, Pretty Boy Floyd

Or these days, perhaps, with a few computer keystrokes.

The National Employment Law Project documents the the far-too-extensive phenomenon of wage theft– the practice of paying workers less than their agreed-upon wage, paying them less than the legal minimum wage, not paying them for all hours worked, or not paying them at all.

A 2009 study of low-wage workers in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles found that “the average worker lost over $2,600 in annual income due to the violations, a full 15% of annual income.”

“These problems are not limited to underground employers or a single group of vulnerable workers – rather, these violations are occurring at large and small businesses alike, in industries that are at the very core of urban U.S. economies. In fact, we found that it’s where you work, not who you are, that is the main determinant of these violations of employment laws,” said Annette Bernhardt, policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project, also a co-author.

And thanks to budget cuts here in Virginia and other states, workers who are screwed out of their full wages are increasingly advised to investigate and prosecute their bosses on their own.

It’s probably best to avoid the Dobbs/Curtin approach (I’ll assume all our readers have seen “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”) to obtaining unpaid wages from a recalcitrant employer– unless absolutely necessary, as it was in this case: