Low-Wage Workers Routinely Cheated, Study Confirms

Wage, hour and overtime lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight a recent report based on a survey of more than 4,000 low-wage workers, revealing that these employees are often denied overtime wages and paid less than the minimum wage, among other federal labor law violations.

The study, titled Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers, a full copy of which can be found here, is the most comprehensive examination of low-wage workers in more than a decade. Of the 4,387 workers surveyed, an astounding 68% of them had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the past week alone. The workers were employed in a wide range of industries, from apparel and textile manufacturing to child care.

It was determined that the average worker was cheated out of about $51 every single week in wage violations, which translates to a 15% loss in pay. The researchers, led by study author Ruth Milkman, were most surprised by employers’ ability to convince employees not to file complaints or request workers’ compensation after being injured on the job. Less than 10% of those suffering serious on the job injuries were ever reported for compensation to pay for medical bills and missed days of work.

The study illuminates the far-reaching phenomenon in the low-wage labor market in the United States of underpaying, undervaluing and largely cheating employees out of their hard-earned paychecks. It is worth noting that nearly 40% of those interviewed were illegal immigrants, more than 30% were legal immigrants, and another 30% were American-born.

The survey was administered to workers in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, and researchers used an innovative, rigorous methodology to reach vulnerable workers often missed in standard surveys (such as illegal immigrants and those paid in cash). Among the minimum wage violations found in the study, it was reported that 26% of workers were paid less than minimum wage in the past week, and that these violations were in no way trivial. In fact, about 60% of workers were underpaid by more than one dollar every hour.

Among the overtime violations, the study reported that over a quarter of low-wage workers surveyed were required to work more than 40 hours in the past week. Of those, more than three quarters were not paid the legally required overtime rate of time-and-a-half. Similarly to minimum wage violations, the average low-wage worker put in about 11 hours of overtime in a given week, and some were not paid for this time at all, even at their abysmal hourly-rates.

Examples of this type of violation include being made to come in early or stay late after/before their shifts. About 70% of workers were not paid at all for the early/late work outside of their regular shift. Additionally, a very large majority of those surveyed worked enough consecutive hours to be legally entitled to at least one meal break. Of these workers, about two-thirds did not receive any break at all, much less a full meal break, had their breaks shortened, were consistently interrupted by their employer, or worked throughout the break. All of these acts constitute a violation of federal and state labor laws.

The U.S. Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, responded to the study, saying that there is no excuse for the disregard of labor standards, particularly those designed to protect the most vulnerable workers. The department recently hired about 250 additional wage-and-hour investigators to help the federal government bring these atrocious violators to justice.

The study revealed that women were much more likely to suffer minimum wage violations than men, with the highest rates among illegal immigrant women. Among workers who were full American citizens, African Americans had violation rates nearly three times that of Caucasians.

Additional violations included stolen tips, illegal retaliation, and failure to receive mandatory pay documents for each pay period. Pay documents are intended to ensure everything is legal and accurate. About 43% of workers reported experiencing some form of illegal retaliation, such as firing or suspension, often for trying to form a union.

Wage, hour and overtime lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have decades of experience advocating on behalf of victims of illegal pay practices. If you feel you have been cheated out of your due wages or have been retaliated against for pursing fair compensation, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation in back wages.

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