Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Florida Retail Federation Supports Wage Theft, Loses Argument

If big corporations wonder why average Americans think they’re pond scum, they need look no further than the recent efforts of the Florida Retail Federation in favor of allowing companies to steal your wages. That’s right. The Florida Retail Federation has made two failed attempts now to keep wage theft legal. Charming, especially considering that wage theft is rampant in Florida.

Here’s how it all started. Miami-Dade County was the first county in the nation to pass a law against companies who steal employee wages. Here’s what Miami says about the ordinance:
The Wage Theft Ordinance policy is to eliminate and prevent wage theft. Eliminating the underpayment or nonpayment of wages earned by persons working in the County serves the public purpose by promoting economic security and dignity for those working in the County; by promoting business and economic development through the elimination of unfair economic competition by unscrupulous businesses that do not pay or that underpay their employees; and to relieve the burden on the public that subsidizes unscrupulous employers whose employees are forced to rely on public assistance because of unpaid or underpaid wages. An employer who is found to have violated the Wage Theft Ordinance by unlawfully failing to pay any portion of wages due will have to pay back-pay and liquidated damages to the employee in addition to administrative fees and hearing costs.
Sounds great, right? I mean, nobody supports employers who steal wages, do they? Wrong-o. In steps the Florida Retail Federation. First, they try to get the GOP-run legislature to pass a law prohibiting counties and cities from passing wage theft ordinances. It actually passed the Florida House, but the Senate had better sense than to come out in favor of having their constituents’ wages stolen.

What’s a big-industry group to do? Sue, of course. Fortunately, a local judge tossed the suit, saying counties have the ability to prohibit wage theft if they want.

The sad fact is that many employers, at least in my neck of the woods, are failing to pay their employees. Some employees are led on for months as the employer gets further and further behind, with promises that they will catch up. Some are simply never paid their last few checks. Some don’t get their last check when they leave. It’s theft, plain and simple. Big companies who provide products and services and don’t get paid cry theft and fraud and bring in the lawyers. If employees leave with one extra pen or paperclip, the police show up at their homes. Why shouldn’t their employees be able to do the same when they aren’t paid?

Wage theft should be a criminal offense nationwide. If sleazy employers aren’t scared of the Department of Labor, maybe they’ll pay up when the local sheriff comes knocking.


  1. Why should wage theft be treated differently than other theft? Steal your employees' wages? Go to jail.

  2. Exactly Suzanne! Stealing is stealing.

  3. Okay, so I can see a situation where the employer intends to pay people but cannot meet payroll. I can see granting an exception for one pay period worth of work, where the employee then becomes a creditor and that debt should not be dis-chargeable in bankruptcy.

    But anything beyond one pay period should result in jail time.

  4. Good idea! If there's truly a financial problem and they tried to meet payroll but couldn't, I'd give them one period. But the owners better not pay themselves and better not issue distributions to shareholders while they're withholding pay from employees. I see employers who use salaries to finance extravagant vacations, homes, boats, cars - the gamut. Those creeps need to go to jail.


I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.