How To Deal With Wage Theft & Claim Unpaid Wages

How To Deal With Wage Theft & Claim Unpaid Wages

Wage theft is an illegal practice of not paying employees for their work. Every year, millions of Americans lose money to their employers due to Wage Theft.  In Los Angeles specifically, low-wage workers lose 26.2 million in Wage theft every single week, making LA the wage theft capital of the United States.

One of the most common forms of wage theft is unpaid wages. The United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), recovered over $304 million in wages owed to workers in 2018 so far. On average, the WHD found that employees were owed $1,150 each in unpaid wages for year 2018 alone.

If you suspect you are a victim of wage theft, you can file a complaint by contacting Younessi Law at (323)777-7777. We have over 24 years of experience of helping workers recover lost wages from current or previous employers, we can help you too!

What are Unpaid Wages?

Unpaid wages is money that your employer should have paid you, but didn’t. This can be anything from unpaid overtime hours, or being paid less than your agreed rate. Survey data shows that over 2.4 million workers lose money to wage theft every year, with low-income workers being affected the most.

When a worker accepts a job at a promised pay rate. The worker and the employer enter a legally binding agreement. Usually, the agreement for work and rate is a written contract. But an oral agreement is also enough to create an enforceable obligation to pay wages

Employers are legally obligated to pay wages that their employees earn. They also have an obligation to pay wages on time. California Law, specifically CA Labor Code. protects employees who experience late or unpaid wages.

Why Unpaid Wages Are Bad

Dealing with wage theft can be difficult. It takes many different forms, violations are not always reported, and sources for data are still very limited. Employers that fail to pay for hours worked, or not paying overtime wages, deprives workers of billions of dollars annually. It also forces hundreds of thousands of workers and their families into poverty. Unpaid wages hurts more than the individual and their family. It affects industries and workers across the board regardless of whether they’re a direct victim.

For many lower-income workers, the resulting loss of money forces them to rely on public assistance like welfare or food stamps. The weight of this is carried by taxpayers. When the total amount of people on welfare rises, it drives up the cost of the program overall. It also weakens the leverage that other, potential new workers have when applying for a new job. By putting downward pressure on hourly wages for their particular job or industry, everyone ends up getting paid less.

This is an example of what unpaid wages looks like for different workers. Some victims have nearly a full months worth of pay stolen from them! (cc: WHD)

This is an example of what unpaid wages looks like for different workers. Some victims have nearly a full months worth of pay stolen from them! (cc: WHD)

Young workers, women, people of color, and immigrant workers are the most likely to  be paid less than what they’re owed. This is mostly due to the fact that these same people are more likely to be in low-wage jobs. In general, low-wage workers experience wage theft at higher rates than other higher paying jobs.

How Do I Know If I Am A Victim of Wage Theft?

Wage theft can happen in many different ways. Some of these can include:

  • When employers refuse overtime pay,

  • When employers force their employees to work off the clock without pay,

  • When employers pay employees less than the minimum wage,

  • When employers make illegal deductions from paychecks,

  • When employers misclassify employees (ie. you have a specific job title but are forced to do other things outside your agreed responsibilities)

Wage theft comes in many forms. Be sure to document your time & pay if you suspect you’re missing money that you’ve worked to earn. ( cc: UCLA)

Wage theft comes in many forms. Be sure to document your time & pay if you suspect you’re missing money that you’ve worked to earn. (cc: UCLA)

Questions To Ask To Identify Wage Theft

Though there are many different types of wage theft, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help identify if you’re being stolen from.

  • Are you working over 40 hours per week and not getting overtime pay? (NOTE: overtime pay is legally required to be one and one-half your regular pay rate. So if you make $10 an hour normally, you are owed $15 per hour of overtime that you work)

  • Are you being misclassified as an independent contractor? Or under the wrong job title?

  • Are you being paid less than $11 /hour and not receiving tips or commissions promised?

  • Have you not received payment for hours that you’ve already worked?

  • Are there any deductions on your paycheck that are irregular, or that you do not recognize?

What To Do If You Are Owed Unpaid Wages

Investigations of unpaid wages are conducted by the WHD under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), after a worker files a complaint. All complaints are  confidential & anonymous under department regulation. But when it an employee decides to pursue legal action, their identity is revealed with the official actions against the employer.

To begin a complaint, you will need some information. You will need:

  • A record of hours worked

  • Copies of pay stubs, or any kind of records of how & when you were paid

  • A List of owner or owners of the company

  • A List of supervisors or managers you work with.

Once you file an official complaint and decide to pursue legal action, you will need a lawyer to help you get compensation for the wages you are owed (known as “Back Pay”). There are many different methods for recovery of unpaid wages. There are also different solutions for workers who are successful in proving that a violation occurred. It all depends on your specific situation, and if you are able to prove your case.

If you think that you may be a victim of wage theft, contact us at Younessi Law by calling us at (323)777-7777, or visit our website for more information. We can help guide you through the process of filing a claim, as well as fighting for your rights and compensation in court. We have over 24 years of serving Los Angeles county and can help you get the justice you deserve.