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Wage Theft: What It Is, and What You Can Do About It

September 3, 2021 Wage Theft & Unpaid Wages

Wage Theft Is All Too Common, Especially in Low-Wage Jobs

Wage theft occurs when your employer doesn’t pay you all the wages you’re owed. This could involve withholding overtime pay, employee benefits, annual leave, or any other form of compensation that you’re entitled to. It can also involve charging you inappropriate fees.

Here are some common forms that wage theft can take.

Withholding Overtime Pay

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), all non-exempt employees must be paid time and a half for hours worked past 40 per week.

Despite this being mandated by law, employees in many industries aren’t paid the overtime they’re owed. According to one survey, as many as 76% of workers surveyed were not paid the overtime they were owed. This is much more common in low-wage jobs.

Withholding Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Some states have higher minimum wages; in New Jersey, for example, it’s $12 per hour, and employers are required to pay the higher amount in states where the minimum wage is higher than the federal amount.

In some industries—particularly for tipped employees—employers are only legally required to pay $2.13 an hour; the employee is expected to make up the rest in tips. If the employee’s wages do not add up to at least the minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference.

However, employers frequently don’t make up the difference. Tipped employees are particularly vulnerable to minimum wage violations; and it’s not unusual for employers to simply withhold the baseline $2.13 an hour.


Some employees are considered “exempt” and thus not protected under FLSA regulations. Exempt employees are not entitled to overtime pay, minimum wage, and other protections. Independent contractors are also exempt from most workplace protections under the FLSA. 

The definitions for exempt employees and independent contractors are supposed to be very clear. However, employers often misclassify employees as exempt in order to avoid properly compensating them.

Illegal Deductions

Employers sometimes deduct things from an employee’s paycheck to justify paying them less. Sometimes, the employer may blame it on the employee, claiming that the employee damaged something or violated some workplace rule in order to justify the deduction.

Bogus reasons for deductions may include damaged or lost company property, business losses, or overhead expenses. When lawfully deducting things from an employee’s paycheck, state law often requires employers to provide documentation; many employers do not provide this either. 

Requests to Work Extra Hours Without Pay 

Sometimes, employers pressure employees to work extra hours or work through breaks without pay. Requests to work more than 40 hours a week without pay, to work through federally mandated breaks, or being asked to come in early or stay late without compensation may constitute wage theft.

Illegal immigrants are particularly vulnerable to more blatant forms of wage theft such as this because they may be afraid to complain to authorities. Employers sometimes threaten to notify immigration services if the employee doesn’t acquiesce.

Other Forms of Wage Theft 

Other types of wage theft include:

  • Pressuring injured workers not to file for workers’ compensation
  • Denial of vacation time, sick leave, or other forms of time off
  • Withholding earned commissions or tips

What To Do if You Believe Your Employer Is Stealing Your Wages

If you believe you’ve been subject to wage theft, you should talk to a knowledgeable employment attorney. Your attorney can help determine the extent of the theft, and help you get the compensation you deserve.

Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at for a free, confidential consultation today.

The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.