Texas Lawmakers Advance Wage Theft Protection Bill

Lawmakers on the Texas House Committee on economic and Small Business Development have advanced a bill that fines employers who are found stealing wages from employees.

As we discussed in a recent post, wage theft can sometimes be taken less seriously than other types of theft, which means there are lighter penalties for employers, bosses, or supervisors who intentionally underpay workers. The Texas Workforce Commission currently has the authority to fine employers for instances of withholding pay in bad faith, but the agency issued fines in only 12 percent of the more than 1,000 cases they reviewed last year.

Wage theft can come in several forms, including bosses who refuse to pay overtime but require workers to complete more tasks than they can manage in 40 hours, for example.

Under the new law, employers would be fined up to $1,000 for acts of bad faith. These acts would include employers who commit the same illegal conduct more than once. Other bad acts include retaliation against workers for complaints or failure to may multiple employees.

While this is certainly a welcome development for employee advocates, the relatively low amount of the fines may not create enough of a disincentive for employers to comply with the law. In some cases, employees can also pursue a civil action against their employer for the lost income from wage theft, along with other types of damages associated with the withholding of pay or intentional misclassification of employees.

Before the new bill becomes law in Texas, it must pass through both houses of the legislature and be signed by the governor.

Source: Associated Press, "Lawmakers advance penalties for wage theft," Michael Brick, May 1, 2013.