How To Protect Yourself From Wage Theft

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Here at Lifehacker we’re big fans of checking every single paystub, even if you have direct deposit. While it may seem paranoid to review every line of that statement with a fine-tooth comb, it’s common for mistakes to happen regardless of the size of the company you work for.

While mistakes to your paycheck are typically due to an error, there are some more sinister situations that can be at play, like wage theft.

In a recent survey by TSheets by Quickbooks, 13% of respondents said they weren’t paid for hours worked outside their schedule. The rate of nonpayment was higher for women —16%—compared to male respondents at 9%.

But what does wage theft really look like? You might have been warned during your job orientation about how wage theft occurs on the employee side (for instance, asking a coworker to clock you out later so you can slip out early). But it can be harder to know when your employer is the one breaking the rules.

What wage theft looks like

Aaron Holt, labour and employment attorney at Cozen O’Connor, explained that wage theft must be intentional for it to truly be considered theft. “A technical glitch in payroll, or even an honest mistake in calculating wages, does not meet the intentional threshold,” he said. It’s more common to find a mistake in how an employer has classified you as an employee, or how overtime pay has been calculated.

But there are signs you should watch out for:

  • You keep getting different explanations for why your pay wasn’t correct

  • You’ve asked to have your compensation reviewed, but your boss ignores your request

  • Your supervisor says you have to work off the clock

  • You weren’t compensated for overtime pay

  • Your pay is consistently incorrect, even after you’ve discussed it with your employer

If you experience any of the above, it’s time to start asking questions.

What to do if your paycheck is incorrect

If you see something amiss with your statement or get conflicting information about your compensation, Holt says to contact your Human Resources department. “Simple communication with your employer can generally yield better results than assuming your employer has engaged in wage theft in the event you discover a compensation error,” he said.

If you can’t get answers and suspect foul play, check your employee handbook to see if there’s a “safe harbour” policy that allows you to make a complaint about improper payment practices. “Most employers will also have policies against retaliating against an employee bringing a bona fide complaint,” Holt said, meaning you shouldn’t need to be afraid you’ll get disciplined or fired for raising a concern.

When to call in reinforcements

If you aren’t getting answers from your employer, call or visit the Fair Work Ombudsman. They can help you investigate the issue.

In some cases, Holt explained, the offending employer could even face criminal charges.


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