As a small business owner I am committed to compensating my employees for any and all of the work they complete for me, but I can’t solve the issue of wage theft alone. Wage theft ordinances are essential in setting a standard for employers and informing employees of their rights. While running my business part time I also work full time and have experienced wage theft in several fields including food service, and office administration.
Wage theft is prominent in the restaurant industry and it can happen in a number of ways. Servers are often expected to do side work after the end of their shift and are expected to clock out before the work is done. It is bad enough that servers are earning a substandard tipped wage, but they are also having hours cut short by management who are pressured by owners to keep hours down. Wage theft doesn’t just take shape in the form of working off the clock though. Being forced to spend your hard earned money on items required to do your job is another form of wage theft.
Each restaurant I worked in had different uniform requirements and even though you will probably never use that apron, or wear those shoes again you can’t expect to be reimbursed for their cost. While it might not seem like a lot of money to someone who is working, being told you need to purchase uniforms in order to take a position can be tough. Employers start the relationship with their employees off on the wrong foot when they force them to zap their resources at a time when they need the money most.
When I left the food service industry I assumed I would no longer be subjected to wage theft, but I was wrong. I worked as an office administrator for a home owners association and was hired as an hourly employee to work a 40 hour week, even though the work load was more than what could be done in 40 hours. I would often have to work well into the evening to complete my daily tasks but I was never compensated for work I did over 40 hours. Not only was I not receiving the overtime pay that I deserved, I wasn’t being paid at all. Needless to say, I am no longer in that position.
I am a co-owner of an event promotion company called Orange Blossom Jamboree. We use an annual music and arts festival to showcase the skills of local musicians and artists and we have a lot of people who depend on us for their income. In addition to selling tickets and lining up artists I also work to get the best food and merchandise vendors. Many of our vendors travel long distances to come to our events, and they depend on our customers having extra spending money to cover the costs of their trip. As a victim of wage theft I can only assume that many of my customers are victims too, and the money they are robbed of by their employer could be spent at one of my events and put back into the local economy.
Wage theft takes many shapes and forms and isn’t as obvious as other types of theft. If someone steals your purse and gets caught, they will be arrested. The same rules should apply for employers who steal their employees’ wages. The opponents of wage theft ordinances say that these laws are bad for businesses, but good business owners aren’t worried. We invest in our communities rather than extracting from them and we appreciate the value of an employee and are committed to paying our employees for every hour they work.
Megan Baker is the co-owner of Orange Blossom Jamboree in Brooksville, Florida, and a member of the Main Street Alliance of Florida.