One of the more common employee rights’ violations here in Houston is wage theft. Wage theft occurs in a number of ways, but it frequently involves employers failing to pay minimum wage or shortchanging workers on overtime. According to a recent study, a very significant amount of wage theft is taking place in the Texas construction industry where as many as 40 percent of workers are paid under the table or are misclassified.

The study involved interviews with over 1,200 construction workers, and it was revealed that not only are the Texas workers paid about $6 less an hour than the national average, but one in three has been retaliated against for reporting wage theft.

A large part of this issue has been linked to the practice of misclassifying construction workers as either independent contractors or subcontractors. Independent contractors and subcontractors have different employment rights than other employees when it comes to overtime pay as well as workers’ compensation, among other things.

Immigration laws have also been described as a piece of the problem, because many construction workers may not have the correct legal status to work in the U.S., and this has created an underground compensation system within some construction companies. Additionally, immigrant workers who do have legal status may not be aware of their employment rights or they may be reluctant to stand up for their rights.

Lawmakers have struggled to address this issue, but a bill has been filed that would fine business owners up to $5,000 for each employee that is not correctly classified.

Laws already do exist to govern wages, but the trouble tends to be with enforcement. Workers who are victims of wage theft may seek recourse themselves. It is often possible to sue one’s employer for back pay and damages when wage theft occurs, but there is always a risk of being retaliated against so it may be wise to discuss one’s case with an employment law attorney before proceeding.

Source: The Texas Tribune, “Report: Employee Misclassification Costs State Millions,” Julian Aguilar, Jan. 29, 2013

  • Our employment law firm in Houston, Texas, helps workers who have been misclassified or shortchanged on wages to obtain compensation. More information is available on our Houston Wage Dispute page.