Wage Theft Prevention: Strategies for Employees to Protect Their Earnings

By Douglas Lipsky

Wage theft robs employees of their earned wages through various illicit practices. It manifests in forms like unpaid overtime, minimum wage violations, and misclassification of employees, making it crucial for workers to recognize the signs. Let’s take a look at wage theft and what you can do about it. 

What Is Wage Theft?

Wage theft is an illegal practice where employers fail to pay their employees the full wages they are legally entitled to. This unethical act can take various forms, affecting a wide range of workers across different sectors. Some common examples include:

  • Unpaid Overtime: Not compensating employees for overtime hours worked beyond their standard workweek.
  • Minimum Wage Violations: Paying workers less than the state-mandated minimum wage.
  • Misclassification of Employees: Incorrectly classifying workers as independent contractors to avoid paying overtime or benefits.
  • Withholding Final Paychecks: Failing to pay employees their last paycheck after they leave a job.
  • Unauthorized Deductions: Making illegal deductions from paychecks that are not permitted by law or agreed upon in the employment contract.

Wage theft not only affects the financial stability of employees but also undermines fair labor practices. An employment lawyer can play a crucial role in these situations, offering legal guidance and representation to recover lost wages. They can help employees navigate the complexities of labor laws, file claims, and negotiate with employers to ensure that their rights are protected and justice is served.

What Does Wage Theft Look Like

Recognizing the signs of wage theft is crucial for employees to protect themselves and their earnings. It often involves subtle discrepancies that can be overlooked without careful attention. Key indicators include:

  • Inconsistencies in Pay Stubs: Paychecks that don’t match the hours worked or agreed upon wage rate.
  • Frequent Pay Delays: Frequently receiving your paycheck later than the scheduled pay date.
  • Unexplained Deductions: Finding deductions on your pay stub that aren’t clear or previously agreed upon.
  • Lack of Overtime Pay: Not receiving higher pay rates for overtime hours as required by law.
  • Misclassification on Payroll: Being listed as an independent contractor when you function as a full-time employee.

If you spot any of these signs, take immediate action. Documenting every discrepancy, no matter how small, is vital in building a case against wage theft. Seeking advice from a knowledgeable employment lawyer can also be beneficial. They can help you understand your rights, advise you on the best course of action, and assist in recovering any wages you are owed.

Legal Rights and Protections

In New York, employees are safeguarded against wage theft by a robust framework of state and federal labor laws. The New York Labor Law mandates precise standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, and regular payroll schedules, ensuring workers are fairly compensated. Additionally, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) at the federal level provides a nationwide baseline for minimum wage and overtime. 

These laws not only set clear guidelines for employers but also offer legal recourse for employees who fall victim to wage theft. Employees have the right to file claims against their employers for unpaid wages, and in many cases, they are also protected against retaliation for asserting these rights. Understanding these protections is crucial for employees to defend their interests and seek justice when necessary.

How To Protect Yourself Against Wage Theft

To safeguard against wage theft, take proactive measures to ensure you are receiving their due compensation. Key steps include:

  • Keep Detailed Records: Maintain accurate logs of hours worked, including overtime, to compare against your pay stubs.
  • Understand Your Contract: Familiarize yourself with the details of your employment contract, particularly regarding wage agreements.
  • Regularly Review Pay Stubs: Check your pay stubs for any inconsistencies or unauthorized deductions.
  • Know Your Rights: Stay informed about your legal rights regarding minimum wage, overtime pay, and other labor laws.

By taking these steps, you can protect yourself and address any discrepancies promptly and effectively.

The Bottom Line

If you suspect you’re a victim of wage theft, contacting an experienced employment lawyer can be the first step towards reclaiming your earnings and ensuring fair treatment in the workplace. Remember, you have rights, and with the right legal support, you can enforce them.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.