Wage theft is the illegal underpayment or nonpayment of a worker’s wages. Wage theft happens in a variety of ways. Wage theft occurs when unethical employers break either federal or state laws by:
- Not paying the minimum wage.
- Not paying the overtime premium for hours worked over 40.
- Stealing workers’ tips.
- Not paying for all hours worked.
- Calling workers independent contractors when they are really employees, thereby not paying the employer side of payroll taxes, workers compensation insurance, unemployment insurance and overtime.
- Taking illegal deductions from workers’ pay.
- Giving workers paychecks that bounce.
Although wage theft can occur in almost any sector, it is common in many sectors that pay low wages. Low-income workers are often the victims of wage theft, making it doubly hard to buy food and pay the rent. Sectors in Virginia in which wage theft is widespread include:
- Agriculture (farmworkers)
- Car washes
- Residential construction
- Home care/child care
Who is hurt by wage theft?
Low-income workers who are not paid all their legally owed wages struggle to buy food and pay rent. Wage theft contributes to hunger and poverty in Virginia.
Why is wage theft rampant in Virginia?
Although there are many excellent employers in Virginia who pay workers fairly and legally, there are too many who cheat workers by not paying them all their legally owed wages. Some employers are extremely devious in how they bounce checks, record hours and misclassify workers. Others are simply not as diligent as they should be in ensuring that their managers and subcontractors are paying people legally. Either way, whether sins of commission or omission, workers are having their wages stolen and employers are breaking the law. The driving motivation is greed.
How can you stop or deter wage theft?
- Make sure your congregation, organization or place of business is paying workers legally.
- Ask how workers are paid when you hire contracted services.
- Learn more about wage theft by reading Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Workers are Not Being Paid and What We can Do about It and organizing a study with your congregation or book club.
- Pay your restaurant wait staff in cash. Approximately ten percent of tipped workers don’t get all their tips.
- Educate workers in your community or congregation about their rights.
- Educate employers in your community or congregation about their responsibilities.
- Support workers who organize to challenge wage theft.
- Help build worker centers/legal clinics in Richmond and northern Virginia.
- Join the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy in raising awareness about this problem in Virginia and strengthening enforcement throughout the Commonwealth.
- Download our bulletin for your congregation or meeting: Wage Theft Bulletin