DOL, EEOC, and Your Employees’ Attorneys Are Reading This Report

A recently released report concludes that a stunning percentage of workers in this country are underpaid and otherwise mistreated at work. The surprisingly widespread incidence of violations suggests that they are probably happening to some extent in your workplace.

It’s likely that these figures will spur government agencies (and plaintiffs’ attorneys) to an even higher level of scrutiny of employers’ wage and hour policies and practices—quite possibly your own.

The survey was conducted under the auspices of three research organizations: The Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project, and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Researchers for the Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers survey collected data in 2008 from 4,387 workers in low-wage industries in the three largest U.S. cities—Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. The researchers used an “innovative, rigorous methodology” designed to reach vulnerable workers who are often missed in standard surveys, such as unauthorized immigrants and those paid in cash.

The study found that many employment and labor laws are regularly and systematically violated. The most frequent violations were:

Minimum Wage Violations

Fully 26 percent of workers surveyed were paid less than the legally required minimum wage in the previous workweek. Worse, the violations were not trivial: 60 percent of workers were underpaid by more than $1 per hour.

Overtime Violations

 Of the respondents who worked more than 40 hours during the previous week (about 25 percent of respondents), 76 percent were not paid the legally required overtime rate by their employers.

Like minimum wage violations, overtime violations were of substantial magnitude. The average worker with a violation had put in 11 hours of overtime—hours that were either underpaid or not paid at all.

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“Off-the-clock” Violations

Nearly a quarter of the surveyed workers had come in early and/or stayed late during the previous workweek. Of these workers, 70 percent did not receive any pay at all for the work they performed outside of their regular shift.

Meal Break Violations

The large majority of our respondents (86 percent) worked enough consecutive hours to be legally entitled to a daily meal break during the previous week. Of these workers, more than two-thirds (69 percent) received no break at all, had their break shortened, were interrupted by their employer, or worked during the break. (Editor’s note: Federal law does not require meal breaks; however, many states do require them.)

Pay Stub and Illegal Deduction Violations

In the states surveyed (and many other states), workers are required to receive documentation of their earnings and deductions, regardless of whether they are paid in cash or by check. However, 57 percent of workers surveyed did not receive this mandatory documentation in the previous workweek.

In addition, 41 percent of respondents reported deductions from their pay in the previous workweek that were viewed as illegal by authors of the survey.

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Tipped Job Violations

Of the tipped workers in the sample, 30 percent were not paid the tipped worker minimum wage. In addition, 12 percent of tipped workers experienced tip stealing or “sharing” by their employer or supervisor.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll find more survey results, and take a look at how to do your own survey.

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