Last week the Houston Chronicle reported on a new study by a liberal research organization that found workers in Texas lose more to wage theft than in any other state.
In this post, we will answer five frequently asked questions about this long-standing problem of workers not getting paid what they are entitled to under the law.
How is wage theft defined?
Wage theft is a broad term that includes several different practices by which employers fail to pay workers what is required by law.
This includes denial of overtime pay, misclassification of employment status, and making employees work off the clock.
Why is Texas so affected by wage theft?
For one thing, Texas has many more undocumented immigrants than virtually all other states.
To be sure, undocumented workers do have rights under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. We discussed this in a post last December.
Many undocumented people are reluctant to assert their rights, however, because of fear of being subject to deportation if they do. These fears have only intensified with the Trump administration in power.
Has government in Texas tried to address the problem of wage theft?
Yes, but not very effectively.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature increased the penalties against employers who are found to have committed wage theft. But the Texas Workforce Commission, which is tasked with enforcing the law, does not really have much power to investigate claims or enforce compliance with the law.
Which industries are commonly most affected by wage theft?
Construction work is notorious for often misclassifying workers as independent contractors even when they should be considered employees. Delivery drivers and restaurant workers are also often subjected to wage theft.
How much money is involved in wage theft?
The Economic Policy Institute (EIP), a progressive think tank, estimates that about 265,000 workers in Texas are getting less pay then they are entitled to under the law. The EIP puts the loss for each Texas worker affected at $85 per week.
Nationally, the amount of money workers lose to wage theft could be as high as $15 billion every year – which would be more than the entire amount actually stolen by criminals.