Unenforced and inadequate laws allow a surprising number of employers to regularly steal billions of dollars from their workers by paying below the minimum wage and ignoring their responsibility to pay for overtime hours. Probably the most famous example is the $352 million settlement Walmart paid in 2008. Four years later the Department of Labor forced Walmart to cough up an additional $5 million for misrepresenting 4,500 workers as exempt from overtime pay.
It’s a cautionary tale for those of us who want to enact legislation to prevent workplace bullying. ProgressiveStates.org analyzed the hodge podge of laws and regulations to protect workers from “Wage Theft” already in place and ranked these polices on a state by state basis. New York & Massachusetts ranked in the Top 2 – with the rest of the states receiving barely passing or failing grades. The analysis shows that: “until the odds of being penalized are increased and the consequences of violations become substantially greater than the financial rewards of wage theft, there will be little reason for dishonest employers to change their behavior. Combined with the meager capacity for agency-based enforcement documented in other reports, weak laws virtually guarantee impunity for unethical employers.” Trying to ‘prod’ employers into doing the right thing by providing a “carrot on a stick” clearly isn’t working and it can easily be surmised that the same will be true if templates to protect workers from abusive work environments aren’t given real teeth. Typically minimum wage workers have few resources to hire and attorney so without an agency in place to enforce regulations employers continue to cut corners by shortchanging their employees. Continue reading