Instances of employers being fined for wage theft appear to be increasing as awareness of the issue increases. In the Northeast, this has been especially true since Massachusetts created a task force to address the issue. But their counterpart slightly South, Connecticut, recently registered one of the biggest wage theft victories of the year when the Wage and Workplace Standards Division of the Connecticut Department of Labor announced that it had collected nearly $5.5 million in unpaid wages over the past fiscal year.
The total is a combination of money recovered from companies failing to properly pay overtime, paying below the prevailing wage, and other offenses, according to the Hartford Business Journal:
A total of $5,565,259.53 in legally due wages was recovered for employees during the past fiscal year; including more than $2M recovered by wage enforcement staff responding to 2,453 complaints that owed wages had not been paid. The division also returned $1,599,095.98 to 1,383 workers who were not paid for overtime work or the minimum wage and recovered $1,930,358.40 by enforcing the state’s prevailing wage laws.
Labor Commissioner Dennis Murphy found it symbolic that the recovery was announced so close to Labor Day. Besides recouping money for the state, the Wage and Workplace Standards division also showed that it can protect workers by ensuring there will be repercussions for those who buck the law:
“With Labor Day approaching, it is especially important to recognize that we have a responsibility to protect the workers of Connecticut and ensure that they are paid for the jobs they do,” Murphy said in a statement.
“Every employee should receive the wages they rightfully earn, and whether the issue is unpaid overtime or the failure to pay the proper wage, the agency is ready to help resolve the problem.”
Despite the aforementioned awareness boost with respect to wage theft, the recession has incentivized law breaking for cash strapped companies and increased the likelihood of fine-dodging by companies. Gary Pechie, director of the wage and workplace standards division, told CBS News that labor officials are often forced to make legal threats or seek the arrest of those not properly paying employees.
“It’s definitely gotten tougher to recover the money though simple persuasion and explanation of laws,” Pechie said.
When proper wages are not paid it has a wide-ranging impact on local economies. Workers have less money to spend; government receives less in terms of tax revenue; and, perhaps most offensive, rival companies that are willing to play by the rules are forced to compete in an unfair market.