National Consumers League

Worker Rights

Worker Rights

Wage theft: Laws protecting workers

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Staying on top of current wage theft laws can be tough, since they can vary depending on your state, city, or county. Learn what’s on the books in your area.



Current state laws regarding wage theft

California – Assembly Bill 469 reforms state law and criminal penalties for violating minimum wage and overtime requirements and ensures that workers have a written disclosure, in their primary language and in English, of basic job terms at the time of hire and after significant changes are made to those terms.

Employee Misclassification Act (SB 459) - Makes it unlawful for any person or employer to engage in “willful” employee misclassification (classifying an individual as an independent contractor when he or she should really be classified as an “employee.”) This practice not only cheats the state out of payroll taxes, but robs workers of workers compensation benefits, unemployment insurance and anti-discrimination protections and increases the likelihood that they will suffer minimum wage violations.

Assembly Bill 240 authorizes the Labor Commissioner to recover liquidated damages for an employee who brings a complaint alleging payment of less than the minimum wage, and also provides that if an employer demonstrates to the satisfaction of the Labor Commissioner that the pay the minimum wage was in good faith and that the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that the act or omission was not a violation of minimum wage law or regulations, the Labor Commissioner may, in its discretion, refuse to award liquidated damages or award a lesser amount of liquidated damages to the employee.

Illinois – The Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act went into law on January 1, 2011 and provides the Illinois Department of Labor with additional tools and resources to enforce the law, including enhanced penalties against employers who refuse to cooperate with the Department’s investigation and enforcement activities.

Maryland – The Maryland Wage Payment & Collection Law governs the timing of payment and payment of wages (such as salary, bonus or commissions) upon the termination of employment and also adjusted the definition of ‘wage’ to include overtime wages.

Massachusetts – Massachusetts passed a bill in 2008 to Clarify the Law to Protect Employee Compensation that states that employers found guilty of violating wage and hour laws, including inadvertent violations, will be subject to mandatory treble damages.

Missouri – Missouri has laws on the books to protect employees from getting misclassified as independent contractors and has given the Missouri Attorney General the power to go after employers.

Nebraska – Nebraska passed the Employee Classification Act in 2010 to provide for protection of workers in construction and delivery services from misclassification as subcontractors for the purposes of tax withholding, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation insurance benefits.

New Mexico – New Mexico passed a law increasing employer liability for the failure of paying wages as well as provided protection to employees from retaliation.

New York – New York passed the Wage Theft Prevention Act in 2010 which protects thousands of hard-working men and women from unscrupulous employers who steal their earnings by paying less than minimum wage, misclassifying them as independent contractors, forcing them to work off the clock and various other schemes. The legislation also increase penalties and strengthen enforcement of laws protecting workers from nonpayment and underpayment of wages.

Texas - Under Texas law, cases of wage theft are handled by local law enforcement under the Theft of Services law. Prosecution depends on establishing intent to steal, and the law now specifies that partial payment of wages is not sufficient to negate an intent to steal wages.

Utah - In 2008 Utah passed SB 159 which makes it fraud to misclassify an employee to avoid the obligation to obtain workers' compensation insurance coverage, and it establishes a council to study how to reduce costs resulting from the misclassification of workers.

Washington - Washington's law provides the State's Department of Labor and Industries with new tools to combat wage theft, including imposing penalties on businesses that repeatedly violate wage laws and allows the Department to require wage bonds of businesses that habitually fail to pay wages owed to their workers.

Current City and County Laws Regarding Wage Theft

Fayetteville (AR) – Fayetteville Mayor Jordan’s proclamation against the practice of wage theft is non-binding, but Jordan is quoted as saying he would establish a Mayor’s Task Force on Wage Theft, assign a police officer to investigate wage crimes and create a hotline to report wage theft.

San Francisco (CA) - The Wage Theft law allows the city to cite employers for failing to post the minimum wage, be cited immediately for an offense -- instead of the current 10 days later -- and increase the retaliation penalty from $500 to $1,000.

Seattle (WA) – The Seattle ordinance makes wage theft a criminal offense and gives the city power to revoke business licenses for individuals who have been convicted of wage theft.

Miami-Dade County (FL) – The Miami-Dade Wage Theft ordinance is the first countywide law against wage theft.  The law prohibits wage theft and gives the county legal authority to intervene and help recover back pay for workers who were cheated out of their fair pay.

Wage Theft Bills in States, Cities & Counties

Connecticut – Senate Bill 798 is tabled to be on the Senate calendar and requires twice the full amount of wages recovered by an employee or labor organization be awarded in a successful civil action to recover wages an employer has failed to pay.

Iowa – Bill SF 311 currently sits in the Subcommittee on Labor and is an act relating to wage payment collection issues arising between employers and individuals who provide services to employers, providing penalties and remedies, and including effective date provisions.

New Jersey – The Wage Protection Act (A. 3948) is currently in Assembly Labor Committee and would provide recourse for employees who are owed wages or any other type of compensation by an employer and establishes penalties for violating laws regarding the disbursement of wages, compensations or benefits.

North Carolina – House Bill 828 currently sits in the Committee on Commerce and Job Development and would require any employer who violates minimum wage, overtime or wage payment be liable to the employee or employees affected in the amount of their unpaid minimum wages, their unpaid overtime compensation, or their unpaid amounts due as the case may be, plus interest at the legal rate set forth in wage payment, from the date each amount first came due.

Oregon – Senate Bill 612-A has passed the Senate and now sits in the House Ways & Means Committee. SB 612-A closes the loopholes to make sure that the construction labor brokers are subject to the same oversight as any other Oregon company.

Tennessee – House Bill 1327 currently sits in the General House Subcommittee of the Judiciary and establishes a formula for determining restitution owed to a victim of involuntary servitude that is based on comparable wages paid for the labor performed.

Palm Beach County (FL) – The Palm Beach County Wage Theft ordinance is currently shelved due to big business trying to pass a state bill to nullify all city and county wage theft ordinances.  The bill would make it easier for working people to reclaim unpaid wages from employers who stiff them.

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