Many local residents may not be familiar with the term, but "wage theft" is an important concept that may apply in situations where you are not treated properly by your employer. Believe it or not, our area (Miami-Dade County) was actually the first in the country to pass a wage theft ordinance. Since its passage, others have considered passing similar measure to protect employees. Feel free to click here to view the public page discussing the ordinance and its purpose.
According to the county website discussing the matter, the purpose o the law is to protect employees from underpayment or nonpayment, get rid of unscrupulous practices leading to unfair economic competition, and buffer public budgets which now are forced to subsidize violations of these rules. In short: the purpose is to ensure employers are fair and pay what is owed. The truth is that they fall short time and again.
So what does this ordinance require?
At a general level, the law demands that wages be paid within two week (14 days) of services rendered. There are exceptions to this rule if an alternative pay schedule was already established. But the basic idea is that an employer cannot wait an extended period of time before providing payment. In addition, as seems obvious, the employer must actually pay the full and fair amount. There are many cases of employees being shortchanged. Often, assuming that it would be too costly or stressful to fight it, they let it go.
That is unfortunate, because as our Miami employment attorney often explains to local clients, there are many legal tools available to hold employer accountable for their unfair conduct.
So what can be done?
As a general rule, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney to get advice tailored to your situation. But wage theft ordinances usually outline the basic process to ensure accountability. One good thing is that some of the complex an costly aspect of traditional claims in the civil justice system are streamlined or eliminated here (i.e. service is usually provided by the county). In general there is a one year max for recouping lost funds. In addition, a "demand letter" must be completed within two months of the date that the wages were due in Broward county--there is no similar requirement in Dade County. In all cases though, it is important to act in a timely fashion to secure your claim.
Beyond acting in an efficient way, it is also helpful to ensure you maintain proper documentation to prove your claim. While the exact process is slightly different depending on the ordinance, in all cases you will be required to provide the documentation to be assessed by those making decisions in the matter. Your employer will have an opportunity to asses the information as well and rebut if desired.
While the rules for these claims are a bit more streamlined than traditional civil lawsuits, they are not without their legal procedural requirements. Specific information must be made in demand letters, and employers have a set deadline to respond (usually referred to as "answering.") After this initial process a hearing is schedule to resolve the matter, where parties will present their sides and a decision is made. If the employee wins, then the employer may be required to pay two to three times the wages owed. This increased damage amount is to encourage employers form avoiding this process altogether and paying what is owed on time, every time.
Important: While the above process seems helpful there is one huge caveat--these counties prohibit lawsuits (i.e. the traditional way of using the civil justice system) for pursuing wages. This can be a huge downside, particularly when there are problems with the performance of the wage theft system. For this reason, it is absolutely critical to first talk with an attorney about these issues before making any decision on your own.