What is Wage Theft?

Little businessman holding scissors to cut money bag in giant hand - what is wage theft concept?

You work hard for a living and deserve the wages you have earned. Unfortunately, wage theft is all too common in Ohio — and it affects thousands of employees throughout the state every year. Wage theft can occur in many different industries, ranging from the financial sector, agriculture, construction, hospitality, retail, professional services, and beyond. You may be asking yourself, “What is wage theft and how can I protect myself from it?” While state and federal laws provide wage protections to workers in Ohio, it’s important to educate yourself and take action if your employer is wrongfully withholding the wages to which you’re entitled.

What is Wage Theft?

Simply put, wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay an employee all the wages they are owed. It is a violation of both federal and state employment law and can happen in many different ways. Whether an employer doesn’t realize they are underpaying an employee because they aren’t aware of the applicable laws — or they knowingly disregard the wage laws — an employee may be able to pursue legal action for wage theft.

Wage theft can happen to any employee. There are a variety of illegal practices employers may use to withhold or deny a worker their rightful wages. Some common examples of wage theft can include the following:

  • Paying less than minimum wage
  • Not paying workers the overtime they’ve earned
  • Not permitting workers to take rest and meal breaks
  • Being asked to report early or leave late without pay
  • Requiring employees to work off the clock
  • Unfair time rounding or editing
  • Misclassifying employees as independent contractors
  • Misclassifying employees as being exempt from overtime
  • Unauthorized paycheck deductions
  • Unlawfully confiscating tips

If any of the above situations have occurred, you may be a wage theft victim. If you’ve been subjected to such unethical behavior or wrongdoing involving your pay, it’s vital to be aware that you have legal rights.

What Laws Protect Workers from Wage Theft?

An employee can file a wage theft lawsuit under either Ohio or federal law. Whether you bring a case under state or federal law will depend upon whether you are a government employee or private sector worker. Specifically, Ohio workers are protected from wage theft under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Ohio’s Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act, and the Ohio Constitution. While the FLSA is enforced by the federal Department of Labor, the state Act is enforced by the Bureau of Wage and Hour Administration.

What Can You Do if Your Employer Has Committed Wage Theft?

If you know or suspect your employer is committing wage theft, it’s vital to document everything that happens. Keep copies of your employment documents, paystubs, time sheets, and any other documentation that will support your case. If your employer did not pay you minimum wage, overtime, or the wages you earned, you can contact the Ohio Department of Commerce to file a complaint and speak with an investigator who will look into your claim. Similarly, federal employees can submit a complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Division of Wages and Hours.

It’s essential to understand that while a complaint can be filed with the Ohio Bureau of Wage and Administration or Department of Labor at no cost, there are certain limitations when it comes to resolving a claim through these administrative processes. Specifically, these offices cannot provide legal advice or collect wages for things like vacation pay, sick leave, or holidays. To ensure you obtain all the pay you are owed, you might consider filing a lawsuit. Both the administrative process and civil procedures cannot be used at the same time.

Filing a Lawsuit for Wage Theft

Whether you are considering filing a complaint with one of the administrative agencies or pursuing a civil action in court, it’s best to consult with an attorney to learn what your legal rights and remedies are. A wage theft lawyer can assess the evidence in your case and work to secure the maximum recovery available. In a wage theft lawsuit, you may be able to recover your unpaid wages, back pay, interest, penalties, overtime, attorneys’ fees, and court costs. Notably, Ohio law also allows employees to recover treble damages, which constitute three times the amount of back wages.

It’s crucial that you do not delay in taking action to pursue a wage complaint. There is typically a two-year statute of limitations that begins running on the date of the last violation to bring a claim against your employer under both Ohio and federal law. However, you can still use evidence from previous wage violations that occurred more than two years ago in your case.

Contact an Experienced Ohio Wage Theft Lawyer

If your employer stole or illegally withheld your wages, you may be entitled to compensation. A skillful wage theft lawyer can evaluate your case and work to recover the pay you were unlawfully denied. Located in Westlake and providing representation throughout Ohio, wage theft lawyer Chris Lalak is committed to fighting for the rights of employees and works diligently to secure the best possible outcome in their cases. Contact Lalak LLC today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation to discuss your case and how we can help.