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

Earlier this week, we began a discussion about an illegal practice that is all too common throughout the American workforce: wage theft. We all work hard to earn a living, and we deserve to be fairly compensated for it.

Unfortunately, the money we are promised is not always the money we get. Dishonest employers use a number of illegal tactics to shortchange their employees, including minimum wage violations, overtime violations, misclassification of their employees and tip stealing.

Author Kim Bobo, who wrote a book on wage theft, recently gave an interview in which he encouraged all workers to educate themselves about their rights in order to prevent or stop their employers from illegally robbing them of money they have earned. He also talked in detail about some of the most common forms of wage theft. In our last post, we talked about minimum wage violations and tip stealing.

Another illegal method of wage theft occurs when employers intentionally misclassify one or more of their employees as "independent contractors." They do this in order to get around wage and hour laws and to deny their workers certain benefits and legal protections that regular employees are entitled to. Sometimes the misclassification of an employee is an honest mistake, but most of the time it is intentional and constitutes payroll fraud.

Finally, Bobo warns that dishonest employers frequently try to deny their workers overtime pay while simultaneously giving them unreasonable workloads. He told the story of a woman he had recently met who was in this unfortunately common situation.

She and other employees were regularly given so much work that they couldn't possibly get it done within a 40-hour work week. But when she asked about overtime, her employer said that the company didn't offer overtime and that they wouldn't pay it.

Since the woman needed to get her work done in order to avoid being fired, she would often work overtime but only report 40 hours on her weekly time sheet. Commenting on this scenario, Bobo explained that "it's common practice for firms to just say they don't pay overtime, as if it's a personal choice. It's not a personal choice; there are clear laws on this."

Hopefully our posts this week have helped readers learn more about their rights as employees and how they can prevent/fight wage theft. Those with further questions may wish to contact an experienced employment law attorney.

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

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