Wage theft is a serious issue that affects far too many workers., When unscrupulous employers cut corners and sidestep payment obligations, they cause a tremendous financial toll on employees.
Even when the Department of Labor (DOL) orders employers to compensate workers, it can be difficult for them to actually collect the owed wages.
Obstacles after an award
A recent ProPublica article describes the problems many New Yorkers face in collecting their owed wages, even after the DOL mandates that the back wages be paid. Approximately 63%of the unpaid wages owed to New Yorkers over the last five year remains unpaid, resulting in $79 million in stolen wages.
Some of the reasons why employees are struggling to collect their unpaid wages include:
- Employers declare bankruptcy and lack financial resources;
- Employers ignore DOL payment requests;
- Inadequate enforcement measures by the DOL
- Ongoing legal issues, such as employer appeals
- Employers making partial payments
For these and other reasons, employees may wait months or years to get the money employers wrongfully withheld.
What can we do?
While this is a complicated issue it is not unsolvable. Many other cities and states have implemented effective means to hold businesses and employers accountable.
Some potential solutions lie in the hands of lawmakers. For instance, one step would be to commit more resources to the DOL, which lacks the budget to hire enough investigators or fully staff its collections unit.
Other strategies include allowing employees to place a lien on an employers’ personal property until owed wages are paid, or requiring employers to pay a surety bond to compensate employees if the employer fails to pay. Additionally, some states may bar a delinquent business owner from operating within that state.
In addition to advocating for systemic changes, there are other steps employees can take. If you are seeking back wages , contact an attorney who understands the collections process to navigate these obstacles effectively.