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Wage theft: an illegal and all too common tactic by employers

One of the most common ways people get stolen from is not necessarily from a man in a black ski mask, asking for their wallet or purse. No, it's actually from the smiling faces that represent the company they work for, skimming money off the top of their paycheck, or simply misclassifying their employee status to financial benefit the business.

That's right -- every year, thousands of Texas residents and millions of Americans are pickpocketed by their own employers.

How does this happen? Well, it is a very difficult thing to detect. Many employees trust their employers and believe their paychecks are correct. Small differences in a paycheck are not likely to be noticed; and things that are off-the-books, so to speak -- like tips -- are even more difficult to keep track of.

Workers in low-income jobs are most affected by these types of wage and hour violations. Their employers may label them as an "independent contractor" -- illegally changing their employment status so that they may illegally pay them less than what they should.

Another way in which these low-income workers are targeted is through unpaid (and essentially unavailable) overtime. Here's how it works: an employer will give employees work that cannot be done in 40 hours. The employees try to get the work done, but can't. They tell their employee they will have to work overtime. The employer responds, saying that they do not offer overtime and that the employee will be fired if they don't get their work done on time.

So the employee actually works 45 hours (for example) to get their job done, but they mark down 40 hours on their timecard. The employer just saved five hours in employee wages by intimidating the employee to do unpaid work.

If you suspect that some of these tactics are being used on you, you should consult an attorney with experience handling employment disputes, and together you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor -- and potentially pursue a civil lawsuit against your negligent employers.

Source: American Public Media, "Robbed on the job: Advice on fighting wage theft," Barbara Bogaev, Jan. 4, 2013

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