Wage Theft: State and Local Governments Get Serious About Unlawful Pay Practices
November 17, 2015
A New York court has sent a message to unscrupulous employers: Pay your employees properly or go to jail! A Papa Johns franchise owner learned the hard way when he was sentenced this week to 60 days in jail for deliberately failing to pay his employees properly under New York wage and hour law. In addition to the jail sentence, he must pay over $500,000 comprised of back pay and civil penalties. This was a relatively extreme case in which the employer falsified documents to hide his failure to pay employees overtime in accordance with state and federal law.
New York is certainly not the only state that is devoting resources to protecting its citizens from unlawful pay practices. Earlier this year, the Washington State Attorney General filed criminal charges against executives of an athletic club arising, in part, out of wage violations. More local governments are also committing themselves to making sure residents are getting the money they have earned. As I previously reported, the City of St. Petersburg recently implemented its own wage theft ordinance designed to allow individuals with relatively small unpaid wage claims to get the justice that was previously out of reach (largely due to the time and expense of seeking redress in state or federal court). St. Petersburg’s ordinance is modeled after Miami-Dade County’s wage theft law. Pinellas County is considering its own version. One can expect other counties and municipalities in Florida will follow suit.
It is not enough for employers to be familiar with the minimum wage and overtime pay requirements of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Many state and local laws prescribe pay requirements that go above and beyond federal mandates. Such laws may also contain significantly greater remedies for violations than those provided under federal law.