Nearly a decade ago, a former waiter joined co-workers in a lawsuit against the owner of a restaurant where they all worked. The group of employees proved to the court that they were victims of wage theft, and had been illegally denied overtime pay and minimum wage. The good news: a federal judge ruled in favor of the two dozen workers, awarding them $1.5 million in damages. The bad news: the workers have been unable to “collect even a penny.”
Because this case was in one of the many states without a wage-lien law, the workers were essentially powerless to enforce the court’s decision. Here in Wisconsin, victims of wage theft are permitted to put a lien on the employer’s property; a powerful legal tool that provides real leverage in compelling a business to pay its workers what they are owed.
The majority of claims filed under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) involve unpaid overtime, though the law also applies to minimum wage, equal pay requirements and child labor.
The U.S. Department of Labor says on its website that the FLSA requires employers to pay overtime to all covered, nonexempt employees “for hours worked over 40 per workweek . . . at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay.”
Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous employers who misclassify employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying overtime or use other tricks such as illegal paycheck deductions or forcing employees to work off the clock in order to deny earned wages.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute estimates that U.S. workers lose more than $50 billion annually to wage theft.
With the help of a skilled employment law attorney, you and your co-workers can fight back. Contact the Milwaukee law offices of Alan C. Olson and Associates to discuss your wage-and-hour claim.