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What workers need to know to fight illegal wage theft: Part I

Regardless of what profession you're in, you likely seek the same fundamental treatment from your employer as other workers do: an honest and reasonable wage for honest work. Americans work hard for their paychecks and we all deserve every last dollar that we have earned and are legally entitled to.

Sadly, many dishonest employers use a number of tactics to deprive their employees of the money they earned. Despite the fact that these tactics are illegal, there are a surprising number of U.S employers who engage in minimum wage violations, misclassification of employees, overtime violations and sometimes direct theft of tips and other loosely guarded assets.

Kim Bobo is the author of a book entitled "Wage Theft in America." In a recent interview, he explained that "Minimum wage and overtime violations are two of the most common ways that wage theft occurs. Another way is payroll fraud, when employers intentionally call people independent contractors when they are really employees."

At the beginning of this month, Florida's minimum wage rose to $7.79 per hour. This means that with very few exceptions, all workers in Florida should be earning at least this much money per hour.

Unfortunately, not all workers are aware of their legal right to this money, especially if they recently immigrated to the U.S. and don't speak English very fluently. Other times, employees know they are being shortchanged but won't complain out of fear of losing their job. In either case, minimum wage violations are illegal and should be reported.

Some businesses can qualify for an exemption that allows them to pay their workers less than minimum wage if their employees receive tips. However, the tips don't always make it into the pockets of the employees who earned them. Bobo says that "About 10 percent of tipped workers actually don't get their tips; their employers just don't give it to them."

Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion about the most frequent forms of wage theft in U.S. workplaces.

Source: Marketplace.org, "Robbed on the job: Advice on fighting wage theft," Barbara Bogaev, Jan. 4, 2013

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