The federal minimum wage per hour is about enough to buy one meal at a Tennessee fast food restaurant. Those working minimum wage jobs often count on every penny to meet their obligations. Nevertheless, among many employers, wage and hour disputes seem to carry considerably less weight than preventing shoplifting. In fact, a recent study compared losses due to shoplifting with the loss workers feel when paid unfair wages.
Paying a worker less than the legal minimum wage is only one way an employer steals from his or her employees. Other ways include forcing employees to work before or after clocking in, withholding overtime pay and stealing tips. However, in an average year, employers spend almost 40 times on security measures than the U.S. Department of Labor allots to enforce laws for fair wages. Compared to nearly 44,000 retail security guards, the DOL employs only 1,000 people charged with investigating wage theft.
The study compared the penalties for each crime and found an astonishing disparity. Whereas someone convicted of stealing only $200 worth of merchandise may be charged with a felony, the few employers who are sanctioned by the DOL for stealing the fairly earned wages of hourly workers may receive a fine. Not surprisingly, the report reveals that those workers who are most likely to suffer from systematic wage theft are those who are often marginalized because they have little status or power, such as minorities, immigrants and women.
While the system seems out of balance, there are still ways for workers to level the playing field. Workers in Tennessee who feel their employers have wrongly withheld legal wages may seek the guidance of an attorney who has represented workers with wage and hour disputes for decades. A dedicated attorney will work tirelessly to assist those who have been unfairly treated.
Source: prospect.org, "Wage Theft and Shoplifting: Same Cost, Different Deterrents", Amy Traub, June 23, 2017