Wage theft occurs when employees are not lawfully paid the minimum wage, an overtime premium, or for every hour they worked. Connecticut residents need to be able to count on a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. But wage theft does not just cheat workers, it also cheats law-abiding employers and the economy as a whole.
Kudos to the legislature for passing a bill this session that helps level the playing field for employers and employees across the board. PA 15-86 has yet to become law but conforms our law that of surrounding states, by requiring an award of double damages in cases where wage theft has been found. Employers who prove to a judge they acted in good faith will not have to pay this additional, mandatory penalty.
In this volatile economy it is important to recognize the vast majority of employers who are doing the right thing and that includes lawful and fair treatment of their employees. However, businesses that choose to put their own profit above the legitimate rights of their employees, should be held accountable. Honest businesses who pay their employees what they earn should not have to compete with those who break the law.
Getting paid for your work is one of the most basic rights in the American system. The minimum wage doesn’t mean much if it is not actually paid. Every year our Department of Labor hears from thousands of employees who are being paid less than minimum wage, not being paid at all, not paid overtime or have had their tips stolen. In April 2015 alone (the most recent data available), 270 complaints were received by the Wage and Workplace Division.
Connecticut law is currently too weak to deter wage theft – employers are often only required to pay back what they were supposed to have paid in the first place with no penalty. This is no deterrent at all.
Fortifying penalties on employers who ignore the law strengthens working families, law-abiding businesses and our economy.
The governor has 15 days to sign or veto a bill and it was transmitted to his desk on June 11.
James Bhandary-Alexander is a staff attorney at New Haven Legal Assistance, where he represents low-wage workers and their organizations.
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