The owner of a Texas roofing company was arrested recently after authorities discovered that he had underpaid a worker by more than $2,000. The employee said that he had completed the work and the customer had paid his employer, but when he asked to be compensated, the owner of the company said that he "didn't want to pay" the man.
This case, which occurred in McAllen, is the second in Texas to involve an arrest of an employer on the basis of unpaid wages.
The arrest was made possible by lobbying efforts from an organization called the Worker's Defense Fund, who encouraged state lawmakers to close a loophole in the criminal code. Now, employers who steal wages from their employees or intentionally underpay them can face jail time.
A supporter of the new law told reporters that closing the loophole helps Texans see wage theft the same way that they see other types of theft - as unacceptable criminal conduct. Still, advocates say that police departments are not taking complaints about wage theft as seriously as other theft complaints, and enforcement of the statute is relatively low.
Wage theft is a serious issue that not many Texas readers are aware of. Some believe that if they are paid for less time than they actually worked that they have no recourse beyond talking with their supervisor or someone else in a position of authority. However, Texas employees have rights under both federal and state employment laws to receive fair pay for the hours that they work. The criminal consequences for the employer under Texas law underscore how serious it is to steal someone's hard-earned pay.
Source: Texas Observer, "McAllen Becomes Second City to Indict Employer for Wage Theft," Priscila Mosqueda, April 26, 2013.