Prosecutors and Regulatory Agencies Crack Down on Crime in the Workplace

Prosecutors and regulatory agencies in several jurisdictions are ramping up efforts to address crime in the workplace, but the crimes they are targeting may surprise you.

In places such as New York, California, Colorado, and Minnesota, lawmakers and county prosecutors view wage theft as a crime. And in Philadelphia, the District Attorney’s Office even created a unit to investigate and prosecute crimes of this nature. While historically, wage theft has rarely been prosecuted due in part to the risk of economically damaging more workers who rely on employment with companies that are entangled in criminal law enforcement, there is a current trend of prosecutors and agencies prioritizing crimes against workers.

In Philadelphia, the only current staff attorney on the unit for investigating and prosecuting crimes against workers has indicated she will look for those employers who steal wages from multiple workers or have a track record of bad behavior.

Prosecutors in California and New York have focused a large part of their efforts on specific industries, such as residential care, the restaurant industry, and construction, where traditionally low wages, temporary assignments, and the use of contract workers has created an environment ripe for abuse of wage and hour laws.

In Minnesota, lawmakers indicate the State’s new wage theft laws are the toughest in the nation, and the newly enacted penalties, including felony charges and jail time, are meant to serve as a deterrent to business owners who might otherwise seek to take advantage of their workers. To combat wage theft, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry will double its number of investigative staffers, and the Attorney General’s Office is adding two staff members, as well.

When the new Colorado law, which expressly recognizes “labor as a thing of value that can be subject to theft,” takes effect in January, employers could face felony conviction and incarceration for wage theft. This is an increase from the current statutory penalties of an unclassified misdemeanor charge if found guilty, plus a fine.

While employers should certainly take increased enforcement of employment laws seriously, these prosecutorial and enforcement efforts are largely aimed at employers who violate the law intentionally, and not just negligently, or who have otherwise made a business practice of falsifying time sheets to cut wages. Accordingly, employers should ensure they are versed in and compliant with all applicable wage and hour laws in their jurisdictions. Moreover, employers should strive to maintain a clean track record in all other areas of compliance and the law. Some prosecutors have found that for organizations that flout the law in other ways, like through the commission of fraud, dishonesty is an overarching theme or business model, and wage theft or other wage and hour violations are often also discovered. 

This blog article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Contact myHRcounsel with questions concerning specific facts and circumstances.