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County ordinance may help Broward County workers recover wages

In the vast majority of cases, Broward County companies pay their staff members promptly for work completed over a specified period of time. Some, however, fail to do this, leaving employees, ex-employees and contractors in financial difficulty. Wage claims can be complex, particularly if the companies against which they are made are uncooperative. Nevertheless, some Florida counties have made "wage theft" a local issue, bringing new hope to many residents affected by unscrupulous business practices.

Broward County recently became the second Florida locality to pass an ordinance designed to help workers recover unpaid wages. The potent debate attracted the attention of the media as well as local residents and businesses, prompting fierce opposition from companies who felt the changes were unnecessary and "burdensome."

Nevertheless, the ordinance passed the vote; as a result, Broward County joined Miami-Dade, who put into place a similar wage recovery ordinance in 2010. Central Florida's Alachua County is allegedly considering a similar measure. Other out-of-state localities with focused anti-wage-theft resolutions include Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco.

Studies have revealed that workers in the restaurant and construction industries are among the most likely to experience wage loss. According to reports, the high number of immigrant workers in Florida may complicate the situation, and not simply because of a lack of legal status. Many of the state's legal, as well as illegal, immigrants do not possess fluent English skills, and are not familiar with state and federal law. As a result, they remain particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Broward County officials hope that the measure will provide an extra level of protection for workers who might otherwise have gone without money earned. Nevertheless in many cases, some companies apparently benefit from their current and former employees' lack of legal knowledge, and consequently avoid paying past-due wages. Individuals who believe they have been affected by wage theft may benefit by informing themselves about employment and wage laws.

Source: The New York Times, "A 'Go Local' Focus Is Used to Resolve Unpaid Wages," Lizette Alvarez, Feb. 20, 2013

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