Massachusetts Wage Theft a Growing Concern

Picture this:

You just got a job with a box store retailer, unloading boxes from containers and trucks. It’s hard, physical labor and you work anywhere from 12 to 16 hours daily, but you are keeping food on the table for your family.
Then, suddenly your boss tells you you’ll be paid by the box, rather than the hour. This seems fine until you actually get your paycheck, and discover that you’re now actually making less than minimum wage. Complain about it, and you’re sent home with no pay. Complain about it again, and you’re out of work.

Our Boston employment lawyers know that this is exactly what is being alleged in Everardo Carrillo et al. v. Schneider Logistics. Although this is a case out of California, this kind of “wage theft” occurs across the country, and it’s a growing concern.

Wage theft is defined as either underpaying an employee for their work or, in some cases, not paying them at all.

It can take many different forms. It could be stealing tips from restaurant servers (or forcing servers to supplement the wages of other employees using their tips). It could be deductions from a paycheck that are illegal. It could be failure to pay minimum wage or overtime.

In some cases, companies skirt the law to avoid paying unemployment insurance on laid off workers by improperly labeling them as independent contractors. Of course, sometimes this is an honest mistake, but oftentimes, employers know the truth – or they should know.

Millions of workers are affected by wage theft, and most of them are in low-income service industries. These would be sectors such as domestic work, agriculture, hotel and tourism, fast food, home health care and retail. Many of these industries employ a large number of undocumented workers or recent immigrants – many of whom are reticent to make a complaint. Single mothers are also often victims of wage theft, fearing that a complaint will result in them losing a job – something they can’t afford to do.

But the problem is massive. Back in 2009, a ground-breaking study was released by the National Employment Law Project. The study, entitled “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers” was the result of a survey of some 4,000 workers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

What they found was that overtime and minimum wage violations were commonplace. Attempts to complain were punished severely.

Specifically, the researchers found:

  • Nearly 30 percent of low-wage workers were paid less than the federal minimum wage;
  • More than three-fourths of all workers who toiled more than 40 hours weekly were denied overtime;
  • These workplace violations cost the average worker nearly $2,700 annually.

Even though low-wage workers were the most commonly affected by these practices, managerial workers were not immune. Oftentimes, people were given supervisory titles and responsibilities – minus the extra pay.

Managers receive a lot of pressure to improve certain numbers, but this ends up resorting to falsification of employee records, denial of breaks or certain deductions from worker wages.

The troubling reality is that when it comes to accountability, many of the laws are far too lax. Even in cases where a settlement is reached, larger firms tend to think of it merely as a cost of doing business.

It’s worth noting that Massachusetts has always been on the forefront of worker rights, being the first state to enact legislation requiring a minimum wage in 1912. We absolutely can continue to be on the forefront – but it takes workers who are willing to step forward and stand up.

If you have been a victim of wage theft in Massachusetts, call us today to learn more about your rights.

The Brown Law Firm, LLC, has offices in Belmont and Boston. For a free and confidential consultation, call 617-489-0817 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:
When Your Boss Steals Your Wages: The Invisible Epidemic That’s Sweeping America, April 29, 2013, By Lynn Stuart Parramore, Alternet
More Blog Entries:
Boston Employment Lawsuits and Pregnancy, March 28, 2013, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog

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