This past Sunday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a story entitled, Do wage theft laws in Ohio harm or help workers? Notably, it quoted yours truly as the voice of management on this issue (thanks to Olivera Perkins for the interview):
Some business advocates argue with the very term “wage theft.” Jon Hyman, a local lawyer who represents employers, says not every employer cited for wage theft has willingly denied rightful wages.”To me, wage theft is a loaded term,” he said. “It presumes an intent to steal.”
For example, Hyman said a former client paid a human resource consultant to do an audit of employee classifications and followed the consultant’s advice.
A few years later, he said, the U.S. Labor Department, which also investigates wage theft, determined that many employees had been misclassified and had not received overtime pay to which they were entitled. The company ended up paying an undisclosed negotiated amount of unpaid overtime to the misclassified employees.
Let’s break this down further.
According to wagetheftisacrime.com (an actual website), “Wage theft occurs when employers do not pay workers according to the law. Examples of wage theft include paying less than minimum wage, not paying workers overtime, not allowing workers to take meal and rest breaks, requiring off the clock work, or taking workers’ tips.”
Theft is a crime of intent. It requires a motive. If I walk out of the supermarket with a sleeve of Diet Pepsi underneath my cart, and forget to pay for it, I didn’t steal it. I just forgot it was there. Now, if I load it into my car, and don’t go back inside to pay upon the realization, that’s a different story. But that story also has intent underpinning it.