Increase in wage theft in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, large scale thefts are being reported every week by the employers from their workers, most commonly “wage theft” at an estimated amount between $19 million and $32 million.

 

Wage theft is defined as the illegal withholding of wages or denial of benefits rightfully owed to an employee. Wage theft can be conducted through various means such as failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, employee misclassification, illegal deductions in pay, working off the clock or not being paid at all.

 

To be very specific, researchers identify the following forms as wage theft, wherein employees are:

 

  • being paid less than the state minimum wage;
  • kept devoid of portions of their tips;
  • kept devoid of wages as a matter of illegal deduction to cover the costs of uniforms, gas and other supplies necessary to perform the job, or else making them pay out of their pockets;
  • not given overtime payments;
  • being deliberately undercounted on their working hours;
  • not paid for travel time while on job or on-call hours; and
  • being forced to work before or after their regular shifts without compensation.

 

A recent report titled “Shortchanged: How Wage Theft Harms Pennsylvania’s Workers and Economy”[1] highlights it as a very common crime occurring across broad range of industries affecting thousands of employees on a regular basis, where, in some cases 15% of the weekly pay was stolen. Despite these records, the problem of wage theft is generally hidden or has been unknown.

 

The report further laid down the situation in Philadelphia including the counties of Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware and Chester, where about 128,576 workers experienced a minimum wage violation, 105,458 experienced an overtime violation, with an estimation of 83,344 off-the-clock violation every week.

 

The 52-page report described the experience of a homecare worker who was paid $9.50 an hour to travel daily to several homes throughout the Philadelphia area to assist clients with bathing, eating, housekeeping and other tasks. However, the employer refused to pay her for the travel time between clients and she witnessed her employer call the police on other workers who complained to supervisors about their shorted paychecks. At one point, she became ill and was hospitalized. Despite her documented excuse and her “sterling attendance record”, she was fired from her job.

 

A number of factors such as employer tactics to avoid payment, lack of knowledge, weak laws and their insufficient enforcement are responsible for these employers to continue doing the wrong and get away with it.

 

Since there has been an increase of the wage theft at an alarming rate, there is an urgent need to control them by either strengthening the state and local laws, bringing about improvement in the state agency enforcement or by providing support to low-wage workers.

 

[1] See Report at http://www2.law.temple.edu/csj/files/wagetheft-report.pdf



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