Unpaid Wages is Wage Theft! Fight Back and Get What You are Owed.

By Daniel Amos

Employees in many industries are ripped off every year

We all expect to be paid when we work. But according to the Economic Policy Institute $50 Billion dollars a year goes unpaid to workers who are being ripped off. This is wrong and if it happens to you it is time to fight back. This practice of wage theft occurs in many lines of work, including:

  • Agriculture industry
  • Food processing industry
  • Restaurant and bar workers
  • Garment Industry
  • Nursing profession
  • Elder Care and Nursing Homes
  • Childcare
  • Construction industry
  • Day laborers
  • Technology Industry (H-1B visa program)

Have you been ripped off in any of these ways?

The California Department of Industrial Relations lists some of the most common ways in which workers are affected by wage theft. These include:

Being paid less than the minimum wage per hour

Not receiving agreed-upon wages (this includes overtime on commissions, piece rate, and regular wages)

Not accruing or not being allowed to use paid sick leave

Not being paid promised vacations or bonuses

Not being paid split shift premiums

Not receiving your final wages in a timely manner

Not being allowed to take meal breaks, rest breaks

Owners or managers taking your tips

Failing to be reimbursed for business expenses

Having unauthorized deductions from your paycheck

Not receiving Reporting Time Pay

Failure to provide timely access to personnel files and payroll records

Unauthorized deductions from your pay

Bounced paychecks

Forced to work “off the clock”

If you have experienced any of these issues at your work we urge you to contact Higher Legal, a California State Bar Certified Lawyer Referral Service (LRS#130), or another qualified employment lawyer. It is important for you to know your rights and to receive all wages, benefits, and compensation you are entitled to under California law.

Are you “Tough on crime”?

We hear politicians talk a lot about being “tough on crime” in the hope that people will vote for them. They talk about the rising crime rates and the need to put more people in jail for crimes like burglary, assault, and drug possession.

But you hardly ever hear politicians talk about being “tough on the crimes” that are committed against hard-working people at their jobs every day. Maybe that’s because many of the employers who are committing these wage theft crimes are also giving generous donations to the politicians.

Wage theft is actually a bigger problem in the U.S than many of these other crimes combined. In a 2017 study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) it was determined that in the ten most populous U.S. states, an estimated 2.4 million people lose a combined $8 billion in income every year to theft by their employers. That's nearly half as much as all other property theft combined last year—$16.4 billion according to the FBI. According to the EPI study, the average worker is underpaid by $64 per week, which is a whopping $3,300 per year.

Unfortunately, our politicians may never get around to taking action on the crime of employer wage theft, so it is incumbent upon all of us, all of the workers of America, to take action whenever we see or hear about or experience wage theft. When we seek the advice of a qualified lawyer who specializes in this type of work we can all help make our system better.

Here's what you should do if you are not paid the money you are owed

If you have been a victim of wage theft by your employer, you need to speak with an employment lawyer ASAP. Higher Legal is a California State Bar Certified Lawyer Referral Service (LRS#130) that can immediately refer you to a qualified employment lawyer so you can fight back and learn about your right to be paid. Higher Legal is a free service to its clients and the lawyer you are referred to will provide a free consultation to hear the facts of your situation. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

A recent example of wage theft which was documented and reported by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) involved technology workers and the H-1B visa program. The EPI reported on a scheme by HCL Technologies - an India-based IT staffing firm that places H-1B workers at top corporations like Disney, FedEx, and Google, which reportedly had underpaid workers by at least $95 million. Here's what they said:

“HCL is one of the largest employers of workers with H-1B visas, which is a temporary work visa program that allows U.S. companies to recruit and hire college-educated migrant workers and is the biggest work visa program at roughly 600,000 workers. The H-1B statute requires that employers pay their H-1B workers no less than the actual wage paid to their similarly employed U.S. workers, a key protection for both migrant and U.S. workers. But EPI analysis of an internal HCL document, released as part of a whistleblower lawsuit against the firm, shows that large-scale illegal underpayment of H-1B workers is a core part of the firm’s competitive strategy. In almost every HCL job role, records show H-1B workers are paid less than U.S. workers.”

You can help make the system better by reporting the crime of wage theft

When an employer rips off its workers, it hurts all of us. It hurts the worker, and it rewards cheaters. It also robs all citizens of the tax dollars we need for our roads, schools, police, and fire protection. It also undermines competition between employers and industries. All of this can be stopped when workers take action and hire a lawyer. Your lawyer can also report the theft to the authorities to further combat future wage theft.

On September 27, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1003 into law. This new legislation establishes that intentional theft of wages or tips by employers is now punishable as a crime with increased fines and penalties which may be a felony and involve imprisonment of the employer.

According to the bill’s author, this new law will serve as a deterrent:

“For too long, corporations have gotten away with stealing from their employees and faced nothing more than a slap on the wrist,” she said. “The system isn’t working if we can’t deter the most egregious actors from taking advantage of their own workers. This law sends a clear message: if you intentionally steal workers’ hard-earned wages, you can actually go to prison."
“Now, AB 1003 makes an employer’s intentional theft of wages or gratuities in an amount greater than $950 for one employee, or $2,350 for two or more employees, and in any 12 consecutive month period, punishable as grand theft.”

You have rights and employees are now able to fight back

According to EATER Los Angeles, last year the state of California cited and fined a Baja Fresh franchise for wage theft of 188 workers who will now receive $375,806 in unpaid wages.

Eater reported,

“California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower’s office stated that G & D Investments, Inc. dba Baja Fresh, seven other legal entities, and its CEOs set up different corporations for each restaurant, but shared employees between locations. By shuffling employees, cooks and cashiers did not receive full pay for hours worked, including overtime and double time, and double shifts. The finding also states that Baja Fresh employees were not given meal and rest breaks, which are mandated by state and federal law.”
“The affected employees worked at seven locations in Southern California, including TCL Chinese Theater, West LA, and in the Miracle Mile’s SAG-AFTRA building. Employers will now have to pay employees:
  • $72,333 in minimum wages
  • $93,928 in overtime wages
  • $7,493 in split/double shift premiums
  • $88,807 in meal and rest period premiums
  • $7,035 in waiting time penalties
  • $105,270 in liquidated damages
  • $940 in non-payment of contract wages only for the corporate entities, all of which are payable to workers.
The cited corporations and individuals appealed the decision. The next step involves a hearing officer who will uphold, modify, or dismiss the citations.”

In California, all workers are protected by labor laws

  • It does not matter where you were born or whether you have papers to work.
  • The Labor Commissioner's Office will not ask about your immigration status or report your immigration status to other government agencies.
  • You do not need a social security number or photo identification to file a claim or report a violation.

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Daniel AmosAttorney since 1985Founder of Higher Legal