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Wage and Overtime Violations More Widespread Than Thought

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Los Angeles, CAUnpaid overtime affects workers across a variety of wage brackets, but it is those in the low-wage classification who are routinely victims of overtime law violations. That is according to a 2009 survey regarding overtime pay and other wage violations. And although the survey is from 2009, issues in overtime and wage violations continue to be a concern.

The study, called “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers” (reported on by The New York Times; 9/1/9), interviewed more than 4,000 workers in low-wage industries in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Researchers found that on average, low-wage workers lost $51 dollars in the previous week, thanks to various wage violations. That may not seem like a lot to some workers, but for low-wage earners who make approximately $350 a week, $51 is substantial. Furthermore, 68 percent of those interviewed had been victim of at least one wage violation in the previous week.

And perhaps even more concerning, researchers found that only eight percent of employees interviewed who reported suffering a serious work-related injury filed for workers’ compensation to cover medical care or missed work days.

Regarding overtime, 76 percent of interview subjects who worked overtime the week before reported not being paid properly for that overtime. Women were more likely than men to be victims of minimum wage violations. The violations of overtime laws were substantial, with researchers noting, “The average worker with a violation had put in 11 hours of overtime - hours that were either underpaid or not paid at all.”

Working for a big company does not guarantee proper pay either. The report notes that of employees of big companies who worked overtime, 53 percent were not paid the proper rate for the extra hours.

When looking at Los Angeles specifically (in the report “Wage Theft and Workplace Violations in Los Angeles,” 2010), of the respondents who reported working overtime in the previous workweek, almost 80 percent were not paid the legally required amount for their overtime, with an average of 10 overtime hours the previous week. Wage and overtime laws require employers to pay employees overtime at a rate of one-and-one-half times the regular rate of pay.

Unfortunately for workers, the situation does not appear to be improving. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) issued a news release on the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (6/25/13), noting that many workers are shut out of wage and hour protections.

Some employees have taken matters into their own hands, filing lawsuits against their employers for unpaid overtime. But in some cases, they must also fight against being misclassified as independent contractors or as exempt from overtime - tactics some employers use to avoid paying minimum and overtime wages.

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