Wage theft takes money out of the pockets of workers, their families and communities. It creates an uneven playing field that favors bad actors and penalizes employers that follow the law. Sometimes the amounts stolen are small, but the overall impact of wage theft is huge.
In North Carolina in 2011-2012, the Department of Labor determined that 2,746 workers were owed more than $3.6 million in unpaid wages. Of course, this counts only those workers that filed complaints. The national cost of wage theft is staggering and vast--one pro-business organization estimates that the cost of wage theft for overtime violations alone is $19 billion a year.
In addition to not paying overtime, an employer can commit wage theft many ways:
- by retaining the first paycheck as a "deposit" or refusing to hand over the last
- docking paychecks for uniforms, equipment and other illegal deductions
- forcing employees to work off the clock
- stealing tips
- paying less than agreed-upon wages or minimum wage
- misclassifying employees as independent contractors
- simply refusing to pay workers
Wage theft occurs across industries and income levels, but it tends to be concentrated in low-wage work. Women, immigrants and minorities are more likely to fall victim. Recent cuts in many states mean that effectively, no one enforces laws protecting workers and unscrupulous employers can steal with impunity.
The law school's Immigration/Human Rights Policy Clinic and the NC Justice Center have both recently published reports on wage theft in North Carolina. Come hear Professor Deborah Weissman and Sabine Schoenbach discuss their findings and policy suggestions.
Picking Empty Pockets
(UNC Immigration/Human Rights Policy Clinic report)
Wage Theft in North Carolina: The Hidden Crime Wave Robbing Workers and Communities
(Workers' Rights Project, NC Justice Center)