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Report: White-Collar Wage Theft Examined in Utah

June 19, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY - Wage theft can take a 15 percent cut out of earnings each year, according to a new report that examines the issue state by state. The research shows Utah lacks protections, as well as access to justice, and the story is the same in most other states. Working overtime off the clock, answering employer questions during off hours, and being classified as a lower-level employee even when acting as a manager are cited as examples of the ways employees miss out on compensation.

Dianne Enriquez, a coordinator with Interfaith Worker Justice, a group that watchdogs wage theft, says it even happens to those in white-collar jobs.

"People don't think they deserve the rights that they have. People don't understand that even though they're white-collar workers, they're actually still quite vulnerable."

The report from Progressive States Network says wage theft causes the most harm to low-wage workers. Enriquez adds that wage theft is becoming more common in better-paying jobs, although employees don't realize it. Often, they're misclassified as contractors or temporary workers.

"The desperation of the need for work is so much, they just sort of accept that that's true, that they are independent contractors, when in reality they've been misclassified."

She says employee protections are often rejected at the state level because they're described as "job killers" or as potentially damaging to businesses. Enriquez says the problem is, though, that when wages aren't paid, taxes are also not paid, which directly affects state budgets.

The full report, "Where Theft is Legal: Mapping Wage Theft Laws in the 50 States," is at bit.ly/LoB28N.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - UT