Wage theft is a serious and common problem in many industries. Companies spend thousands of hours attempting to find ways to pay employees as little as possible. Many of these tactics are legal. But whenever companies cross the line into illegal behavior, it is up to attorneys and individuals to right whatever wrongs may have been committed.
Exempt vs Nonexempt
There are many ways that a company can commit wage theft. Many instances of this crime are committed by employers stretching the interpretation of rules past their breaking point. One example is the idea of exempt and nonexempt employees. Exempt employees are exempt from standards governing hours worked and overtime. They can only be in a set number of fields and have to make more than $23,660 per year as a salary. These men and women are paid for a week even if they do not work every day that week. Nonexempt employees are the most common kind of employee in the workforce. These employees must be paid benefits if they work 30 hours per week and overtime if they work more than 40. Nonexempt employees are often discouraged from working this overtime in order to save a company money.
Companies often classify employees improperly in order to have more exempt employees that they can work long hours for the same salary. They may commit wage theft by manipulating an individual’s job description so that they fall into an exempt category. A frequent example of this form of wage theft is companies that classify individuals as managers even though they perform no legitimate managerial tasks.
Some companies do not want to have to pay the minimum wage to their employees. They take a myriad of steps in order to avoid having to pay that wage. Some companies will charge an individual for different equipment that they use daily. Other companies take advantage of the tip system. Whenever employees make tips, the employer has to pay them more than their base pay rate if they do not make minimum wage. Many employers will often shirk that duty and force employees to file complaints and even lawsuits in order to receive the back pay they deserve.
Many companies will also do whatever it takes to pay as little overtime as possible. One common practice is to structure an employee’s workday around the seven-minute rule. The seven-minute rule states that employees should be paid for a quarter-hour of work if they arrive within seven minutes of that quarter-hour. For example, individuals who arrive at 5:02 AM should be paid as if they arrived at 5:00 PM. Companies can modify when employees come in so that they receive ten minutes of free labor every day.
Companies can also simply refuse to pay overtime. They may wrap overtime work up with the overall job duties that an individual has. These companies set a new standard where hours work is combined with “getting the job done” in a way that leads to free labor. Many retail companies do this with their employees who either open or close. They view opening and closing as part of an individual’s responsibility.
Misclassifying employees as independent contractors
In addition to mistreating full-time employees, companies can also change the status of employees in order to take advantage of them. An independent contractor often does not receive benefits or overtime protection. They are paid a general rate that is often low. An individual may sign short-term contracts or have no guaranteed hours. These people simply work whenever there is work available. Some companies attempt to argue that their employees doing regular work are independent contractors. They may work a normal schedule and do the same tasks as every other employee but still be classified as an independent contractor. This transgression is the same as other forms of wage theft. It uses a quirk of the law to deprive individuals of the benefits of the law.
What to do
Any individual who fears they are a victim of wage theft needs to first contact a wage and hour attorney. Then, they need to start collecting as much evidence as they possibly can. This evidence will help individuals show that their employer was taking away their wages. If possible, individuals should document the work that they do and the times they arrive and leave from work. An employment lawyer will show them the best way forward to collecting evidence and proving their case.
Once a California wage and hour attorney like those at West Coast Employment Lawyers is contacted, he or she will help present the best steps moving forward for an individual. In some cases, an employment lawyer will simply recommend that an individual quit their job and leave as soon as possible. But in many cases, they will often contact the employer, present the evidence collected, and ask for a settlement. The company’s attorney will most likely contact them back and there may be a settlement that satisfies both sides. Experienced attorneys at firms like West Coast Employment Lawyers can bring in the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement in California and have a government agency behind their case.
If the employer refuses to settle, the government and the individual’s wage and hour attorney may bring a case and seek damages. This case will revolve around the nature of the wage theft and whether it was malicious or a temporary mistake. Many individuals in this case will at least receive their back pay that was taken from them by the employer. In cases where malicious intent can be proven, an individual may win thousands of dollars in damages from their employer.
Violations of California wage and hour law are treated seriously by government administrators and the justice system. Anyone who feels like they are a victim of this transgression should not feel alone. They have many people who can support them and advocate on their behalf. But this support does not mean individuals should not work as hard as possible to collect evidence on their own. This evidence may mean the difference between success or failure for many individuals facing wage theft.