Ways To Protect Yourself From Wage Theft

Guest Post: 3 Ways To Protect Yourself From Wage Theft

When you were little, did you ever run a lemonade stand or a car wash?

If so, you probably remember how good it felt to turn your time, effort, and creativity into cold hard cash.

But were you ever underpaid by a patron for a waxing job or maybe shorted for a cup of lemonade? Did your parents ever exact a “tax” from your total earnings to teach you a valuable lesson about “the real world?”

Maybe these examples are too specific, but you get the idea—most people have an intrinsic understanding about the nature of labor and compensation. It’s something we’ve known since we were little. If you sell X number of cups, or clean X number of cars, you should be entitled to X amount of cash.

But it probably wasn’t very far into adulthood – perhaps even a little sooner – that we began to understand the truth: the peopel or companies we work for don’t always have our best interests at heart.

There is no better example than the current state of wage theft in Ohio.

The data from Ohio’s Current Population Survey might shed some light on wage theft in Ohio. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the data shows that employers in Ohio are actively stealing wages from some 217,000 workers each year through minimum wage violations alone.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s even worse than that: all told, minimum wage violations in Ohio keep almost $600 million dollars from workers every year. To make matters even worse, when other forms of wage theft are considered, the figure rises substantially.

Given the data, it’s only right that workers in Ohio should take care to educate themselves about the reality of wage theft in their state. For those citizens lucky enough to have avoided wage theft so far, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

And for workers who currently are or have been the victims of wage theft—there are ways to fight back. At Filevine, where we create cutting-edge legal technology to help lawyers succeed, we’ve seen countless examples of successful wage theft-related cases.

If you’re a victim of wage theft, or if you suspect you’re not being fairly compensated, the Paycheck Warriors at Barkan Meizlish, LLP can help. Their team specializes in wage theft and Barkan Meizlish, LLP has been active in Ohio for over 60 years. Contact them to make yourself whole again and get what you have earned!

Wage Theft Defined

What exactly is wage theft, anyway?

According to Wikipedia:

Wage theft is the denial of wages or employee benefits rightfully owed to an employee. It can be conducted by employers in various ways, among them failing to pay overtime; violating minimum-wage laws; the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, illegal deductions in pay; forcing employees to work “off the clock”, not paying annual leave or holiday entitlements, or simply not paying an employee at all.

Unfortunately, the reality of wage theft is not always so clear cut and the evidence is usually buried beneath a pile of paperwork. But, workers equipped with the right knowledge can protect themselves and their families from unfair and unlawful compensation practices.

3 Types of Wage Theft

  1. Common Minimum Wage Violations

By far, most instances of wage theft occur through minimum wage violations. These kinds of violations take many forms and can be easy to miss.

  • Underpaid hours. Minimum wage in Ohio is $8.55/hr. If an employer pays less than the state minimum wage for any hours worked, their actions are wage theft. This happens more often than you’d think. Keeping a diligent eye on your paystubs is a surefire way to protect yourself from shorted pay.
  • Unpaid Overtime. In Ohio, any minimum wage worker who logs more than 40 hours in a work week is entitled to overtime pay. Your employer must pay you 1 ½ times your regular rate of pay. If you make minimum wage, the proper overtime rate is $12.83/hr. Always monitor your hours worked and compare them to your pay stubs to ensure you’re not missing overtime pay.
  • Working Off the Clock. It is illegal for an employee to perform any work-related duties while off the clock. Unfortunately, a failure for employers to pay for all hours worked is still a common form of wage theft in Ohio. All off-the-clock work must be paid, even if the work is preparatory in nature. Always ensure you have clocked in before performing any work-related duties, and if your employer pushes back, find help.
  • Inaccurate Tip Deductions. For tipped positions, improper deductions and improper application of a tip credit are common forms of wage theft. It can be tricky to spot since positions like these usually vary in take-home pay. Always check your pay stub for tip deductions and ensure that you made at least the Ohio minimum wage for all hours worked when you include your tips. You should also compare your pay stub to your hours worked and tips received. Deductions can only occur if tips surpass your minimum pay rate ($4.30/hr). But regardless of how much you take home from tips, an employer cannot deduct more than $4.25 total from your pay for each hour worked.
  • Erroneous Payroll Deductions. It’s illegal for employers to charge employees for work-related tools, materials, clothing, etc. It’s also against the law for them to charge employees for damage to company property, cash register shortages, skipped customer bills, or lost sales opportunities. Keep an eye on your pay stub to protect yourself from this form of wage theft.

Minimum wage workers are often taken advantage of but that doesn’t have to be the case. Always check your pay stubs for potential wage theft and keep them filed away in a safe place in case you need them in the future.

  1. Withheld Paychecks

This form of wage-theft is more direct.

When an employee is terminated or leaves their job without notice, they might assume they have to walk away from any outstanding wages. This is not the case, and it is illegal for an employer to withhold wages for almost any reason.

Still, there are employers who will try. Usually this occurs when an employee’s departure or termination has left the employer understaffed or otherwise set back, but paychecks may be held back in other situations as well.

If you ever find yourself in a position like this, don’t back down. Inform the employer that they are breaking the law and that you aren’t afraid to report them or take legal action. If they don’t cough up the check right away, tell them your friends at Barkan Meizlish, LLP would love to chat!

  1. Independent Contractors

An independent contractor is an entity hired to perform a specific task, complete a specific project, or assist with a very limited scope of responsibility. This worker is not added to the payroll as a regular employee, and is exempt from overtime pay, federal tax with holdings, worker’s compensation insurance, and more.

Sometimes an employer will classify a regular employee as an independent contractor in an attempt to avoid these kinds of payments. That way the employer can reap the benefits of unpaid overtime and lower operating expenses. It can also protect employers from worker’s compensation claims, since independent contractors cannot sue them for injuries sustained on the job.

Always be on the look-out for this common form of wage theft, and carefully review each document associated with your employment agreement. Your pay stub will also show any federal withholdings and overtime violations. Remember to store these in a safe place in case they become relevant later!

Next Steps for Victims of Wage Theft

Sadly, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what constitutes wage theft. Workers must be vigilant in reviewing their pay stubs, employment agreements, and other work-related documents to ensure they aren’t being taken advantage of. It also pays to stay informed about current Ohio wage laws and the ways they affect your daily life.

If you’re already a victim of wage theft, then you shouldn’t wait to make yourself whole. Get help now, and fight back!

You’ll need attorneys with a deep understanding of Ohio’s wage laws and ample experience with cases like yours. The Paycheck Warriors at Barkan Meizlish, LLP have been practicing are the wage theft experts you are looking for. The best part? The Paycheck Warriors at Barkan Meizlish, LLP offer FREE wage theft consultations. They’re committed to helping victims of wage theft recover their losses and become whole again.

With professionals like these by your side, your unfortunate experience with wage theft can soon become a distant memory.

– Michael Radford is a writer and media producer at Filevine, the operating core for legal professionals. Filevine’s technology helps firms get more done with less effort, and frees them to focus fully on the needs of their clients.

November 4th, 2019

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