Revisiting the Misnamed and Misunderstood Term 'Wage Theft'
Most wage and hour mistakes are honest ones born out of a misunderstanding of the law, not a desire to cheat or steal from employees.
Yesterday, on his always excellent Connecticut Employment Law Blog, Dan Schwartz wrote a post entitled, “Wage Theft”: The Trendy Phrase That May Not Mean What You Think It Means. Dan wrote:
[T]he use of the phrase is being pushed to push various agendas — not as a result of any legal theory or real change in the law.… And it’s time to call it out; it’s a phrase that is both misleading and loaded.… Does that mean that the problem of employers failing to pay employees overtime should be ignored? Hardly. Employers who fail to follow the the myriad of wage and hour laws should be held accountable. And suffice to say that criminal activity by employers should continue to be enforced vigorously.… Quite simply: The use of a criminal term for a non-criminal act needs to stop.
Dan is 100 percent correct that the term “wage theft” is being misused and abused. The mainstream press and bloggers are using the term to cover any situation in which an employer is not paying required overtime, whether it’s an intentional withholding or an honest mistake. “Theft” connotes bad intent — yet most wage and hour mistakes are honest ones born out of a misunderstanding of the law, not a desire to cheat or steal from employees.
For more thoughts on wage theft, check out one of my earlier posts on the subject: Taking issue with the term “wage theft.