All employees are entitled to receive the correct level of payment for their work, as dictated by the Department of Labor. Yet despite this, wage theft is still a common problem for workers all over the USA and it impacts a variety of industries and roles.
If you have been a victim of wage theft on the part of a current or past San Diego employer or are not quite sure what wage theft entails and are owed any money as a result, this page will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about wage theft and unpaid wages.
What is wage theft?
Wage theft is classed as the denial or withholding of the wages or benefits that are rightfully owed to any given worker.
There are many different ways an employer can illegally withhold wages from their employees. This often leads to confusion for the employees themselves when it comes to determining whether or not an employer has wrongfully withheld pay or refused to pay them what is owed. Some of the most common types of wage theft include:
- Expecting employees to accept less than the legal minimum wage
- A refusal to pay for necessary overtime
- Expecting employees to work “off the clock,” or for no pay at certain times
- Employee misclassification
- Illegal deductions from an employee’s paycheck
- Denial of mandatory lunch or rest breaks
- Taking or withholding employee tips
- The non-payment of accrued vacation time
- Refusal to reimburse business expenses paid by the employee, such as the cost of tools, or business mileage
- Simply not paying the employee all or part of their wages at all, such as by paying fewer hours or days than the employee actually worked
Are unpaid wages different from wage theft?
If your employer does not pay you the full wages that you are owed for any reason, this constitutes wage theft, regardless of the amount in question. Wage theft and unpaid wages both result when your employer withholds your full wage packet.
Is unpaid overtime classed as wage theft?
Failing to pay for overtime is one of the most common forms of wage theft, and even today, many employers expect their workers to perform overtime without receiving the appropriate remuneration. In some cases, this is so deeply ingrained within the company culture that employees feel that they have little or no recourse against their employers when it comes to recouping the money that they are owed.
However, not receiving payment (or not receiving full payment) for overtime worked is very much a form of wage theft and as such, is covered by the full remit of the protection of the law.
Are unpaid commissions classed as wage theft?
If your wages are based either fully or partially on earned commissions for tasks performed (such as per volume of work completed, per sales made or targets achieved), then the withholding of commission payments that you are owed is once again classed as wage theft.
Additionally, if you work on a commission basis and your wages fall below minimum wage (currently $10.50 per hour in California) and your employee does not rectify the difference, this is once more classed as wage theft.
How do I file a wage claim against my employer?
If your employer has withheld or refused to pay the wages or benefits that you are owed, you are entitled to make a claim against them to recoup your losses.
In order to do this, you will need to file a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, who will then investigate your complaint and if upheld, make an order for back pay to be paid by your employer (or ex-employer).
If you are not sure how to proceed, need advice on making a claim or are concerned about potential repercussions on the part of your employer, retaining the services of an employment law attorney can help.
If you have been a victim of wage theft in San Diego or need support, contact us to receive a free 15 minute consultation.