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Photo of Michelle Cohen Levy

The mechanics of wage theft in modern life reveal some disturbing trends

| Jun 30, 2021 | Wage & Hour Laws |

What’s the most widespread criminal act affecting poor and disenfranchised workers in the United States? Would you believe wage theft?

It’s estimated that wage theft robs American workers of about $15 billion a year. It’s often overlooked, ignored or — at most — punished with a slap on the wrist for the offending employer.

It’s dollars and cents, but that makes a big difference

Most wage theft isn’t about big bucks. Instead, the employer may steal no more than what amounts to a few dollars or cents from each of their victims at any given time. However, they do that over and over again, to a large number of employees — and that adds up to a lot of money, over time.

Disturbing new research indicates that some workers are more likely to experience wage theft than others. Executives and white collar employees are far less likely to be victimized by their employers than blue collar employees, which is perhaps no surprise.

What’s shocking, however, is the fact that Black employees are 50% more likely than White employees to be victims of wage theft. Immigrants (of any nationality) and Latinos are twice as likely to be targeted than Whites.

Why are these groups apparently targeted?

These frequently marginalized employees are often worried about losing a job they desperately need and may not be able to replace. Thus, they are afraid to complain for fear of bringing attention to themselves from the authorities (if they’re undocumented). In other cases, they may  simply be unaware that what their employer is doing is illegal.

Employers can be brazen about their wage thefts, too. They may flat-out refuse to pay overtime, tell an employee to clock out and then clean up their workstation, order employees to start work before their shift begins without recording it or openly “shift” hours that are counted from one week to another so it appears that an employee only worked 40 hours.

You can hold your employer accountable

Until employers are forced to pay their employees what they are due, the situation isn’t likely to change. If you’ve been the victim of wage theft, you don’t have to fight for what’s rightfully yours all alone. An experienced legal advocate can help.