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Wage Theft in Minnesota

A glaring problem, and a solution

“Forty thousand people get wages stolen from them each year,” said Tim Mahoney, a Minnesota representative, at a round table on wage theft in Minnesota in April 2017.

Many of us don’t realize the seemingly insignificant ways in which employers can take advantage of their workers each payday. Often these minor thefts go unchecked and unpunished.

It can happen to anyone, but wage theft primarily happens to employees working in minimum wage jobs, or those working for businesses that close suddenly. Common areas of wage theft include not getting paid for:

  • working during lunch hour;

  • setup or cleanup of work spaces;

  • trainings, and mandatory staff meetings;

Some people have worked unpaid since the start of their employment, as a business fails, or tries to get off the ground, while others see their employer deduct exorbitant percentages from paychecks for uniforms, supplies or lost assets. The list of abuses goes on and on. All against Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry wage theft law.

“These cases require a factually specific analysis, including a close look at duties of the employee based on the classification of the employee and the degree of control the employee had over the work,” says employment attorney Chris Jozwiak. “This is not easy to do and is case-by-case specific.”

How can I afford an attorney if I’ve lost my job?

Reputable employment attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning they only get their rate of pay if a client gets paid. “This is a stressful and emotional time for people. A claim can be incredibly invasive into one’s past and monetary situation,” says Jozwiak. “The last thing we as attorneys want to do is add to the stress.”

What laws are in place to protect citizens?

There are new Minnesota wage theft laws being enacted to protect employment. At the moment, an employee can collect unpaid wages in four instances:

  • When they are terminated and not paid fully for daily earnings; overtime pay or, paid time off or vacation days;

  • when they resign and are not paid fully for daily earnings, overtime pay or, paid time off or vacation days;

  • when an independent contractor or commissioned employee are not paid their commissions;

  • when an employer unlawfully deducts payments from your wages.  

To collect in any of these situations, one must send a written demand letter to the head of human resources for payment of wages as soon as they can. This documentation should include:

  • The date

  • The employees address (physical and email), and telephone number

  • The date of termination, resignation or alleged offense. 

  • A clear demand for any and all unpaid wages, bonuses, paid time off, vacation or commissions in a written notice . 

  • The specific law implicated

  • The address to which payment should be sent

Copies of everything you send to an employer, and detailed records, earning statements, and any additional information on how these written employee notices were sent to the employer, must be kept by the ex-employee. 

What if the employer refuses to pay after the letter is sent?

Anything under $15,000 in Minnesota will be heard in small claims court, and often the employer will send a lawyer to ensure this money is not paid out. But, there are protections in the law for employees. 

The penalties employers face for not paying what they owe employees are called liquidated damages. These can be up to twice the amount owed, and damages accrue each day that an employee goes unpaid. The courts can also force an employer to pay your legal fees, and they can even award compensatory damages for not being paid, and may include criminal penalties.

Most often, these issues are not experienced by a single employee,” says Jozwiak. “They are often experienced by a class or group of employees all losing wages under the same policy. These problems may sometimes be remedied internally with a simple complaint, but reports must be made properly, and the key is to speak to an employment law specialist for legal advice. There is a real risk in making these claims; they aren’t easy or a simple thing.”

If you or a loved one has run into issues upon leaving a job, or while on the job, they should contact an experienced and reputable employment law attorney. For more information about this area, see our overview on employment law for employees and wage and hour laws.

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