Which employees are most at risk of employer wage theft?

Wage theft occurs when a business does not lawfully compensate workers for the jobs they do. Wage theft deprives workers of billions of dollars in income each year, although knowing the true scope of wage theft is virtually impossible.

Workers in many different professions could experience wage theft. Businesses are always seeking to maximize profits, even if it may mean bending the rules. Companies can, and sometimes do, take advantage of those in all different positions. However, research on the topic indicates that one group may be at elevated risk when compared with other professionals.

Hourly workers, often in customer-facing positions

The people working the most unpredictable schedules for the least competitive wages are among those most likely to experience wage theft. Hourly workers in retail, restaurant and similar positions work for companies that prioritize keeping labor costs low. They have minimal job stability and have few options for advancement.

Those in better-paying positions are often more aware of their rights and receive compensation on a salary basis. Their paychecks are the same no matter how much they work, so they would notice a drop in income immediately. Hourly workers may work a different schedule every week, meaning that their paychecks are unpredictable. Employers may leverage this fact and their sense of job instability to deny workers the wages they deserve.

Wage theft can involve intentionally manipulating payroll records to reduce how much workers receive. It can also involve tricking workers into regularly performing job functions without compensation or doing off-the-clock overtime to save the company money. It can involve refusing to pay overtime even if workers put in the time.

Many hourly workers may worry that speaking up would mean losing shifts or possibly losing their jobs. Others may be unaware of their rights or may not realize that requiring that they do their job without full pay is technically wage theft.

Employees may need to begin gathering records about what they have experienced, including independent information about timekeeping to prove that their paycheck does not reflect the hours they actually worked. Being able to recognize wage theft as it occurs is necessary for those who hope to fight back.

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