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Shoplifters Face Stiffer Penalties than Employers Who Steal Wages

A report finds employers are stealing just as much from their employees as shoplifters are swiping each year. (Department of Labor)
A report finds employers are stealing just as much from their employees as shoplifters are swiping each year. (Department of Labor)
June 23, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Retail employers are stealing as much from their employees as shoplifters steal from their stores, according to a new report.

The progressive policy group Demos compared minimum-wage theft data from the Economic Policy Institute with shoplifting data from the Global Retail Theft Barometer.

Between 2013 and 2015, it found employers underpaid or otherwise skimped on wages worth $15 billion each year. Shoplifters stole $14.7 billion in merchandise each of those years.

Report author Amy Traub, the associate director of policy and research for Demos, says retailers get a slap on the wrist for committing wage theft.

"A retailer that's stealing millions of dollars in wages from its employees often faces a lower risk of punishment - and really, a lighter penalty - than a shoplifter who nabs a pair of shoes off the shelves of the store," she explains.

The highest civil federal penalty for wage-theft violators is repaying the stolen wages and an equal amount in damages. The penalty for repeat wage-theft offenders isn't much higher, with a maximum of $1,100.

The report notes shoplifters who steal more that $2,500 in merchandise can face felony charges.

Last year, a bill was introduced in Congress to tighten wage-theft laws. The "Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act" would compensate wage victims with three times their stolen wages, increase civil fines for repeat offenders and make it easier for employees to act on wage theft.

However, Traub notes the bill has stalled completely.

"This seems like it really should be a bipartisan issue," she says. "We should all be united - especially a president who campaigned on doing the right thing for working Americans - around ensuring that employers don't steal money out of their employees' paychecks."

The report also says retailers spend far more money protecting their stores from theft than the Department of Labor spends enforcing wage laws. In 2015, retailer security spending was almost $9 billion. That's 39 times greater than the Department of Labor's entire Wage and Hour Division budget, of about $227 million.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MN