Is Your Labor Being Exploited? What to Know About Wage Theft

Is Your Labor Being Exploited? What to Know About Wage Theft

- in Finance
how to prevent wage theft

Did you know there might be a way to increase your paycheck? It involves stopping something called wage theft.

Many families are now learning about a workplace practice hurting their budgets. It is actually a scheme that exploits your labor. In wage theft, employers either intentionally or unintentionally withhold money due to you according to the FLSA.

What is The FLSA?

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) requires your employer to openly post information about your labor rights. This information typically appears in the form of a poster. It must be posted in an obvious spot where employees can see it somewhere in the workplace.

This act, printed and published on a red, black and white poster by the US Department of Labor, contains information about fair labor standards. This poster summarizes your rights to fair payment for your labor. Many employees may see this information but don’t know what to do if their pay is being exploited.

How Might Wage Theft Be Committed Against You?
There are common ways wage theft can occur. Here are some examples:

1. Employer withholds overtime pay. A common way wages may be dismissively taken from you is by an employer withholding overtime pay. By law, for hourly workers, after you work more than 40 weekly hours, your employer must pay you at least time-and-a-half. That means if you work for the current hourly minimum wage of $7.25, for any hours you work over 40 in the same week, you get one-and-one-half-times $7.25 or approximately $10.89 hourly for all hours worked over 40. If your employer does not pay this additional pay, it constitutes wage theft.

2. “Off-the-clock” uncompensated work. Especially in the retail industry, “off-the-clock” work constitutes wage theft. Off-the-clock work involves uncompensated job-related tasks an employer requires an employee to complete before and after his/her work shift ends.

3. Retail job misclassification. A common retail scenario includes one where an employer gives hourly employees managerial sounding titles. Examples of these titles might be “assistant” something such as “assistant store manager” or “assistant store supervisor” or “managerial assistant shift supervisor.” (Note: Correctly classified managerial employees are typically exempt from overtime pay.) Once the employer attaches an exempt-sounding title to the hourly employee, the company then reclassifies the hourly employee as being exempt from overtime. The truth is that often those managerial sounding titles do not change the hourly employer’s labor status. The proof? The entitled hourly employees do tasks hourly workers do. Thus, they should be getting paid overtime.

4. Workers unpaid for 30-minute meal breaks but forced to work through the break anyway. Many workers are required to perform uncompensated work-related tasks during their meal break. This is another example of wage theft.

5. Unpaid donning and doffing time. Many occupations warrant that an employee change into and out of protective clothing as required by law, by the employer, or due to the job’s inherent dangerous or bio-hazard job nature. If changing clothes is a part of an employee’s job, the time to dress and re-dress should be included in on-the-clock work hours. If the employee is not paid to be appropriately prepared to do his/her job by being correctly clothed to do that job, it is off-the-clock work and is argued to be a form of wage theft.

6. Minimum wage violations. Employers that pay an hourly-rated employee less than the lawfully mandated minimum wage commits wage theft. A common way an employer does this is by making inappropriate employee deductions that cause the worker’s take-home pay to fall below minimum wage. Examples of unlawful deductions can be seen by checking this link.

7. Suspect record keeping. The US Labor Department clearly requires employers to keep honest records. If your work record contains intentional or unintentional errors, know you are entitled to do something about it. To see what the US Labor department record keeping standards are, check this link.

8. Payroll debit card fees. Many employers now pay employees using debit cards. Requiring employees to pay debit card fees is not a usual business expense employees absorb. If these fees cause an employee’s wage to drop below the federally mandated minimum, the employer may be engaged in wage theft.

9. Unreimbursed mileage and expenses. If you incur job-related expenses and your employer doesn’t reimburse you, he or she is engaging in wage theft. Make sure you submit all receipts for job-related expenses. Pay close attention to your paycheck and see to it that you get reimbursed.

10. General labor status misclassification. If your employer classifies you as an independent contractor while you are actually an employee under the FLSA, he or she may be committing wage theft. It is important to know the difference between the two labor classifications.

What can you do to protect yourself from wage theft?
The following are some basic ideas to protect yourself from wage theft. You can use these to determine if your labor is being exploited.

  • Understand whether you are an hourly or salaried (exempt) employee. Hourly employees are entitled to overtime payment when working over 40 hours in one work. Typically, salaried employees working over 40 hours are not. However, there may be exceptions to these standards. Remember, federal laws and regulations determine your pay eligibility. If your employer says you have a special pay circumstance ask him or her to show you the law that supports that special circumstance. If you have questions, contact the US Labor Department.
  • When wage concerns arise, respectfully talk with your employer about it. People do make mistakes. Give your employer the benefit of the doubt if something seems inaccurate about your paycheck. To help yourself, it’s a good idea to keep a record of the hours you work. Also, before you turn in receipts for job-related expenses, keep a copy for your own records. Additionally, if you file a complaint, keep a copy of it AND your employer’s response to it. Remember it is your right to dispute, without being retaliated against, paycheck discrepancies.
  • If necessary, consult with an employment attorney. If your wages are illegally being withheld from you, and after talking with your employer nothing is resolved, you may need to consult with an employment attorney. This type of attorney knows the labor laws governing employment practices.



Susan Fox is a parent, mother, wife, professional hypnotist and freelance writer. She teaches people how to use natural methods of effectively managing the pain, stress and tension of chronic conditions. You can contact her by writing to her at [email protected].

About the author

Susan Fox is a mother of two boys and a holistic health palliative care coach. She teaches people how to use natural methods of effectively managing the pain, stress and tension of chronic conditions. Visit or email [email protected] for more information. Look for her upcoming ebook, “Sick Child? What to do and Expect the First Time at the Pediatrician’s Office,” which discusses practical ideas from her own experience of going to the pediatrician’s office with her seriously ill, firstborn child.

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