Wage theft is a billion-dollar business. Dollar by dollar, workers in the United States are deprived of more than $50 billion every year – and some of them don’t even realize they’re being robbed.
Wage theft occurs when employers underpay their employees, violate labor laws or engage in various other schemes to withhold the wages earned by their workers. While wage theft can happen to anyone, some groups are more vulnerable than others. They include:
Low-income workers generally have minimal bargaining power, making them easy targets for unscrupulous employers. Industries like retail, hospitality, manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture and construction often employ a significant number of low-income workers who lack the resources to challenge wage theft when it happens.
Immigrant and migrant workers
Language barriers, limited knowledge of labor rights and fear of deportation can deter immigrant and migrant workers from reporting violations, especially if they’re undocumented. Some employers may exploit the vulnerability of these workers, knowing that they are less likely to seek legal recourse.
Restaurant and service industry workers
The restaurant and service industry is notorious for wage theft. Workers in these sectors, including waitstaff, bartenders and kitchen staff, are frequently subjected to wage theft through tip pooling abuses, unpaid overtime and minimum wage violations – and far too many are unaware of their rights.
People of color
Wage theft often disproportionately impacts people of color, primarily because they’re more likely to lack better economic opportunities and work minimum-wage jobs in the industries already mentioned. They may already be marginalized, and some employers won’t hesitate to exploit them even further.
Young workers, including teenagers and college students working part-time jobs, can fall victim to wage theft through sheer inexperience and a lack of knowledge about labor laws.
In other words, employers who are inclined to participate in wage theft know who to target – but you can fight back with legal guidance.