A recent Yes! Weekly article, Wage Theft: Is the Boss’ Hand in Your Wallet, puts the spotlight on wage theft in the Triad, telling some of the stories of workers experiencing wage and hour violations and the significant impact of wage theft on their lives.
Workers in the area, who didn’t give their names for fear of retaliation from employers, listed a wide range of ways they are denied what they are owed. Restaurant workers were promised raises they never received. A manager on Elm Street was forced to come in and do prep work without clocking in, some workers had to clock out while cleaning the shop….Paychecks bounced, wages were lowered without notification, businesses closed and never gave employees’ their last checks, workers were forced to pay for supplies and campaign workers said they were paid a fraction of what they were promised, if at all.
Wage theft – the illegal underpayment or non-payment of workers’ wages – is on the rise and the scope of violations is substantial. Claims filed under the FLSA have increased by 400 percent over the last decade. And, as we have written before, data from the NC Dept. of Labor’s Wage and Hour Bureau, which administers the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act, shows that documented wage theft cost workers and their communities almost $4.7 million in just one year. While these figures are significant, the numbers likely underestimate the occurrence of wage theft. As the Yes! Weekly article reiterates, workers may fear retaliation, hang on to bad jobs because of a lack of other options, or have difficulties seeking redress.
As North Carolina works to sustain this slow economic recovery, it is critical that workers have good jobs and are paid for their work. Wage theft can be devastating for families struggling to make ends meet, but can also impact the broader economy. Businesses that illegally withhold wages are at an unfair competitive advantage and wage theft keeps money and taxes out of local economies.
North Carolinians have long believed that hard work should be rewarded with fair wages. Policy makers must ensure that our existing wage and hour laws are enforced and that unscrupulous businesses are held accountable. By addressing the issue of wage theft, North Carolina can reinforce the value of work, help struggling families, and accelerate the economic recovery.