Skip to main content

What’s “wage theft?” Chances are it’s happened to you.

Wage theft describes any situation where workers don’t receive their legally or contractually promised wages. This could be non-payment of overtime, not getting a last paycheck, not paying for all hours work, not paying minimum wage, or even not paying at all.

If you've ever had to do additional work after punching out, or worked through a lunch break but still got a lunch hour deducted, you've been a victim of wage theft.

It’s illegal. But because of weak enforcement - and often lack of collective bargaining - employers get away with it all the time.

We asked our members for their experiences with wage theft. Here are 16 stories.

I worked for a company that had a 3 week training course. With class permission, management squeezed it into a two week class with the addition of two Saturday sessions which the 30 member class would each be paid overtime. It took me six months to get that money. By then, every other person in my class had quit their job.
-Curtis, Nevada

My daughter works at a salon on the Las Vegas strip. As an assistant she does many tasks, one of them being giving hair treatments to clients. She does the service and the hairdresser takes the commission. They are stealing the money for the work she did. This is something she has been paid for in the past at the same salon but they just now decided it should go to the hairdresser! Shouldn’t the hairdresser have to do the work for that commission as well?
-Teena, Nevada

When I worked at a restaurant, the owner kept everyone's tips for herself -- to pay for her daughter's private school tuition, she explained.
-Bradley, New York

Once my paycheck bounced because the owner of a security business in California bought a Porsche with the company payroll. They froze my accounts. Checks bounced.
-John, Michigan

I worked at a cafeteria where the boss decided how much time the thought our job "should" take us. At the end of the week, he'd simply cross out the number of hours recorded on the punch clock, and write in the lower number.
-Sam, New York

I had gotten my paycheck on a debit card from work. About a month ago I lost the card - it still had 160 dollars on it. I sent in for a new one i got one without the money.
-Heather, Wisconsin

Nurses work unpaid hours every day. The workload is so heavy and structured in such a way that you can't just leave when your shift is over, all your tasks have to be done. Unpaid overtime between 20 minutes up to an hour and a half is common. People leave the profession altogether which is why we import nurses from other countries. It's brutal and leads to serious errors and patient safety is compromised. When someone dies as a result it is covered up to protect the facility. The public has no idea.
-Carrie, Ohio

I'm a teacher and so is my husband. One time he kept up with how many hours he worked in a year and it was more than twice his contracted time! We also have 5 snow days "built in” to the calendar. If we don't use them,that time is not subtracted nor do we get them off. So basically we work an entire week for free.

At some of my former schools, I had to stay late to babysit kids whose parents wouldn't pick them up on time and also, I had to go in on a Saturday to supervise students in detention - unpaid.. Seems like parents just get free babysitters to me and then I'm taken away from my family on my personal time. Glad I don't work those places anymore.
-Karen, Tennessee

As a waitress we had to stay after closing and clean for free. No wages, not even the minimum wage, for waitresses.Vacuuming, washing tables, chairs, sweeping, filling salt and pepper shakers and condiments. As a single mom, I put up with it to keep my job. They knew I needed to work.
-Rebecca, Michigan

I went to work as a waitress in a hotel in the early hours of a blizzard that brought the city to a halt on Christmas eve. I worked from about 6 a.m. until about 2 a.m. the next day, then got to sleep on a meeting room floor. While I made great tips that day, management decided they would only pay us for eight hours instead of the twenty or more we worked. Then they had the audacity to write me up in April for a ticket that went missing on that Christmas eve. Three waitresses, one supervisor, one busboy and two hundred guest rooms occupied by people who had no place they could go except the dining room. They did close for two hours in the afternoon so we could clean, restock and get a bite to eat. I put up and shut up to keep that damn job.
-Muriel, Colorado

I worked for seven years as a custodian and worked many hours without pay. Since they have the job set up so the tasks can't be done in the paid hours, to keep a job you had to work over your assigned hours.

In Georgia, you can be fired for anything or nothing, needless to say, you can't go on like that for ever, so I was fired in the end for nothing. That's why I believe so strongly in the benefits of having a union.
-June, Georgia

I worked at a restaurant and hurt my knee on the job. First off, my manager on duty did not file the paperwork for workman's compensation to pay for the surgery it took to fix my meniscus. So I am paying for it slowly myself. Then, upon my release  from my knee doctor, my general manager demanded a note from my psychiatrist stating I was able to work because I am bipolar. Upon explaining to him I was out of work for my knee not my mental problems he told me it didn't matter, that for his piece of mind he would not let me back until I had a note from the psychiatrist. I debated this with him for some time but eventually felt so humiliated because of my mental health becoming such an issue to him and management in general, I quit. Leaving a job I had been at for almost a year and missing out on the really good pay I made there. I truly feel they stole wages from me.
-Bonnita, Wisconsin

When my husband worked for a supermarket chain at close to minimum wage, it was mandated that he punch out at "quitting time" and then go to the parking lot to round up the shopping carts until every last one was collected - even those for shoppers rung up after closing time.
-Kathleen, Ohio

I worked in a dental office until recently putting in sometimes over one hundred hours a pay check and got paid straight time for all of it instead of overtime. As long as we didn't say anything we could work all the hours we wanted. I'm a single mom and put up with it to keep my job. I would love to know if anything can be done to get back what is owed.
-Beth, New Jersey


I experienced wage theft many times, but my union made sure we filed a grievance and I was eventually paid. When I worked for the Federal courts they had comp time, which you had to beg to get and if not used immediately would become history. I got sick of donating my time so I quit. APWU rocks!
-Tina, Missouri

And the other side of the coin:

I don’t want to lose my job by telling my story.
-Connie, Louisiana

If you have a story of wage theft you'd like to share, text WAGETHEFT to 30644 or leave it in the comments below. We won't share your full name or the names of any companies.

by Doug Foote - Reposted from Working America's Main Street Blog

Originally posted to Working America on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 09:33 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  lost six years of pension benefits because of the (11+ / 0-)

    job title doing 30% more work although finally got it for the last 4 years when they go shamed into considering my continuing temporary status after living through two 3 year cycles of bosses.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 09:44:39 AM PDT

  •  I've recently gone through a period... (7+ / 0-)

    of chronic underemployment.

    I'm cautiously optimistic I've broken free of that now--just started a professional gig last week and I picked up some freelance stuff over the weekend.

    I'm not too proud to do what I have to do to keep from going homeless. So over the past couple of years I've worked in the food service and security industries to pay the mortgage and rest of the bills.

    I was stunned at how labor laws--LAWS!--are flaunted and ignored. I'll spare my tedious story and get right to the point where LAWS were straight-up violated.

    Food service, there is a trend in restaurants toward using the Fair Labor Standards Act minimum wage exemption to force tipped employees to do work that could not possibly generate a tip and should be done by persons making at least the minimum wage. It's fucking rampant. In my case, it involved everything from cleaning the kitchen floor to washing mats to cleaning kitchen equipment. When I mentioned this to management--they essentially laughed it off. I was paid $3.63/hr for this work.

    The other issue I'd like to address is payroll debit cards. Many states have strict regulations regarding these. In my state the LAW says the employer must attain the employee's permission to pay them in this fashion. If not, either direct deposit or a check must be provided. My employer flat ignored this. I was on the verge of lawyering-up and taking the fuckers to court over this when I got my current job. These cards are a complete ripoff and total pain in the ass to use to transfer funds to your own bank account (at a cost of $2.50, BTW).

    And, BTW, after I quit that job (yes, I had two full time jobs), they failed to put my final paycheck on the debit card.

    It's one thing to have a ideological difference with your employer. It's quite another when they straight-up ignore the law (not to mention morally unconscionable to do this to someone who can barely afford groceries).

    I'm damned angry about this and I'd love to see some congressional hearings on the subject. Are you listening Sen. Harkin?

  •  I was unclear on the concept of overtime (10+ / 0-)

    and didn't realize I was actually able to get it.  So in my last job, I would often work more than 40 hour weeks, and 'bank' the extra time as flex time that I could take off when work from clients was slow.  I didn't realize until after I had left the position that I should have been racking up that 'banked' time at time and a half, that not only was my boss gaining the advantage of having me work when he needed me and letting me have time off when he didn't, but that he was saving $11 an hour for every overtime hour I 'banked' as flextime.

  •  Just back from another interview (3+ / 0-)

    with anther crappy private mental health agency.

    They work ona "billable hour" basis and cause you to drive around to people's homes to see them there. You do not get paid for driving. Or gas.

    They will then nickle and dime you over your pay.

    Previous place I worked like this "payday was always getting moved back. Supposed to be the 10th? Now its the 17th. The 22nd? now the 30th. 2 or 3 months like thaat and they have stiffed me for an entire months.

    Then we change the way we are paid.... one thing after another. I figure that one company along owes me $4000.

    If they weren't in a big nice building it would have been tempting to burn them down.

  •  My daughter worked for a very (6+ / 0-)

    short while as a hostess for a chain restaurant where they "pooled" tips.  On a mother's day the restaurant was packed the entire day and she worked longer than 8 hours.  She received $50 as her share of the tips.  She quit the next day.  She was sure the managers were taking a share of the tip money before distributing it to the staff because she was expecting about twice that amount.

    •  Yea, that happened to me years ago at a greasy (3+ / 0-)

      spoon. The teenage waitresses weren't good servers. I and the older servers got better tips consistently, because we were better servers and more personable.  

      In order to be "fair" in this new, everyone gets a trophy bullshit world, it was decided that all tips be pooled and split evenly.


      I won't work at a place like that ever again for pooled tips. My table, my tip.

      Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

      by GreenMother on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 11:00:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yes it has happened to us regularly (4+ / 0-)

    Working hours and hours off the clock at home for no pay. That's just to keep up with a schedule.

    That's all I can say. We need this job.

    Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

    by GreenMother on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 10:56:53 AM PDT

  •  I have several (3+ / 0-)

    I worked for a mercifully brief time at a bakery where the owner told me that the work could not get done in 8 hours so I should expect to work 9-hour days. Then he added he could not afford to pay out overtime so he counted overtime as time worked over 9 hours, not 8. As though he could just make up law. This same bozo told me I had to have direct deposit and that I had to move my bank account to Wells Fargo so I could get direct deposit. When I told him that I was satisfied with my bank he said I'd get checks mailed to be but they would be 2-3 days later than everyone else's. I contacted the state and found out he could not do that. I had figured out I had actually been hired short term, he was too cheap to use a temp agency, so I had no problem contacting the state about the 9 hour day. They made him go through 5 years of employment records and send everyone back pay. I was fired. Surprise!

    At another place we were told we'd get comp time instead of OT, although California requires the employee to choose this, not the employer. Since I was working 14 hour days I decided I'd rather have time off anyway. When we finished the project, I calculated I'd earned 9 day off. I asked for 2 and was then told I was "on salary" and would get nothing. At this same place, I started June 13 and payday was June 15. I asked if I'd get a 2 day check and they said no, I'd get the extra 2 days on my July 1 check. Fine. But my July 1 check was way too small. I contacted payroll (a contracted service) and they explained that they took my 12 days in the pay period, divided my annual salary by 365 days to get my daily salary, multipled that number by 12 and that was my pay. I pointed out that having worked an extra 2 days my check should be larger, not smaller. A very condescending man kept telling me this was normal accounting and I just didn't understand math. The problem is there are not 365 working days in a year; in California they are supposed to divide by, if I recall, 250, not 365. I got my extra pay but also got reported to the CEO. For wanting my pay!

  •  Work in Hawaii in field with tipping included (0+ / 0-)

    in the price of the service, but if the boss gives the client a discount, (s)he keeps any extra tip they add to the CC, up to the amount of the discount (s)he gave to the customer.

    (s)he honestly believes that (s)he deserves it!

    If (s)he sees the client give cash tip, she keeps the regular tip.

    It's not illegal here, according to info received.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site