National Consumers League

Worker Rights

Worker Rights

Seasonal workers: avoid wage theft this holiday season

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Shopping mall during holidays‘Tis the season of temporary holiday work. As unemployment continues to hover around eight percent, many Americans will be on the lookout for seasonal work this year. But before starting any new job, workers need to familiarize themselves with the potential pitfalls of seasonal or temporary employment to avoid becoming a victim of wage theft.

One of the most important things new hires need be aware of is their worker classification–whether they are labeled as an employee or an independent contactor in their job description and tax forms. A worker classified as an independent contractor is not entitled to employee rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). FLSA rights include the right to the minimum wage, the highest rate available between the federal ($7.25 per hour), state, city, and county minimum wages, anti-discrimination protections, workers compensation, and overtime pay. During tax time, an independent contractor receives a 1099 tax form in place of a W-2 form. Employers don’t pay payroll taxes for independent contractors, so contractors are on the hook for the back taxes to both the IRS and the state tax board.

According to the FLSA, full-time employees are legally entitled to overtime after working more than 40 hours a week for the same employer; overtime compensation is defined as 1½ times the regular hourly rate. By federal law, the workday begins immediately upon entering the workplace and includes the time it takes to don a uniform or set-up. Work time ends when one leaves the workplace and includes the time it takes to clean up or restock inventory.

Knowing the law and keeping proper records is critical for workers to ensure that they are being paid the amount they are owed. Workers should save any and all payroll stubs and double-check that the number of hours worked, rate of pay, paycheck deductions and that the official/legal name of the employer is correct. To help American workers calculate how much they should be earning, the U.S. Department of Labor has created a free app for smartphones to help track workers track their hours and determine the exact amount employers owe.  The tool is exceptionally useful when there are any paycheck discrepancies.

Remember this holiday season that it’s important to arm oneself with as much information and tools as possible to ensure that one does not become a victim of wage theft. For more information on ways to prevent wage theft please visit the National Consumers League’s Wage Theft Web pages, the U.S. Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division, one’s state labor department or a local workers’ center.