The Growing Issue of Wage Theft and What to Do if You’re a Victim

Wage theft continues to be a significant cause for concern across Pennsylvania and the greater Philadelphia region. In a previous article, “Wage Theft and The Philadelphia Restaurant Industry,” we discussed the substantial number of wage theft claims involving the restaurant industry and the impact wage theft can have on victim’s lives. 

Our team would like to shed further light on the growing national issue of wage theft and what you can do if you believe you are a victim. Below, we go into further detail about what wage theft is, how you can hold your employer accountable, and the steps you should take to recover the income and other financial recourse you are entitled to.

What is Wage Theft?

Under the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and if you live in Pennsylvania— under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act— your employer can be accused of wage theft if they fail to compensate you for your work properly. This can take many forms, including:

  • Failing to pay out on an employee’s last paycheck after quitting or termination
  • Failure to pay employees for overtime
  • Deliberately compensating employees below minimum wage
  • Denying employees rest or meal breaks
  • Any other actions that cheat employees out of the compensation they are entitled to

How to Better Identify if Your Employer is Violating the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act or the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act

The first step to identifying whether or not your employer is breaking the law will be one in which involves educating yourself on labor laws. According to the FLSA, nonexempt employees—or those who are paid by the hour and not salary—must receive a federal minimum wage (as of July 24, 2009) of $7.25 per hour and overtime pay that is no less than one and one-half times their regular rate if they work 40+ hours a week.

The next step will be identifying how your employer might be breaking the law. In some instances, employers have been shown to (whether they know it or not):

  • Commit minimum wage violations – by paying less than the federal minimum wage.
  • Neglect to pay the appropriate overtime pay by having some confusing rationale as to why they cannot.
  • Make illegal pay deductions or not reimburse employees for equipment, gas, or other items needed to do the job.
  • Commit a tip violation by keeping too much or all of an employee’s tips.
  • Fail to pay workers for the hours that they work, or short their hours.

While you would think that employers would do everything they can to follow the laws set forth by the FLSA, it has been shown that wage theft is prevalent and that both workers and the United States economy are paying the price. In fact, according to a report released by the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University Beasley School of Law that looked at how wage theft harms Pennsylvania, they found that stolen wages deprive the state of millions of dollars of valuable tax revenue.

What You Should Do if Your Employer is Breaking the Law

It is vital that you speak with an attorney if you suspect your employer is committing wage theft in Pennsylvania. Something else you can do is reach out to your state’s Department of Labor or Department of Employment and the U.S. Department of Labor

Whatever path you choose, it is important that you also bring any physical evidence or documentation that can back up your claim. Some examples of the evidence you might use to prove your employer is violating state and federal employment laws include:

  • Texts, calls, or other communication exchanges with your supervisor or employer
  • A record of a formal complaint made against your employer
  • Emails discussing labor or employment law violations
  • Photos of the conditions at your workplace
  • Statements from witnesses or other employees
  • Copies of employer-posted notices that encourage employees to violate employment and labor laws

These are only a few examples of evidence that could be used to prove you are a victim of wage theft. Although you may be feeling intimidated and overwhelmed at the thought of going up against your employer, you should never be afraid to reach out for help. 

Your employer cannot discriminate or terminate you if it is found you are filing a complaint. If they do demote, harass, or terminate you after reporting your concerns, you may have grounds for a retaliation claim against them. This could increase the amount of compensation you are awarded for not only your wage theft but the retaliation you endured.

You Can Recover Maximum Compensation Through a Civil Lawsuit 

You may have the authority to move forward with a civil claim against your employer if they violate state or federal labor and employment laws. When you file legal action, you have the right to be made whole. You should be repaid for not only your economic damages but your non-economic damages as well.

Emotional Distress

Suffering wage theft can turn your life upside down. Not only will you struggle financially, but the emotional distress you may experience when you are living paycheck to paycheck and suddenly do not receive your pay as expected can be traumatic. For this reason, you should be compensated fairly for this mental anguish and emotional distress.

Back Pay and Lost Income

You will be entitled to your earned wages when you file your wage theft claim in Pennsylvania. However, you may also be entitled to back pay and compensation for any income you lost if you were demoted, given fewer job responsibilities, had your hours cut, or were otherwise retaliated against for standing up against your employer’s wage theft and employment law violations.

Reputational Damages 

In certain industries, your reputation is everything. If your employer made false allegations against you or blacklisted you in your industry, thereby destroying your reputation and ability to find gainful employment, they may be compelled to compensate you for these damages accordingly.

Wage Theft is a Serious Issue and it Should Not Be Ignored

Here at Kalikhman & Rayz, LLC, we are much more than personal injury attorneys that serve Montgomery County, PA, and bankruptcy lawyers that provide our services in Montgomery County, PA. 

We can offer experienced legal counsel and advice to those who suspect they are being taken advantage of by their employer anywhere in the Philadelphia, PA area. To learn more about wage theft and your rights under the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, please do not hesitate to pick up your phone and call us or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation today.