According to a 2019 study on race and discrimination, women and people of color are disproportionately impacted by discrimination in the workplace. And women of color, who face workplace discrimination based on both sex and race, are the most affected group. At Wagner Zemming Christensen Attorneys at Law, we know that employment discrimination is an insidious form of systemic racial inequity that must be urgently addressed.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the labor shortage that followed, many workers have demanded higher pay from their employers, and this has spurred some much-needed reform in low-wage industries. But many employers continue to underpay employees by violating minimum wage laws and other aspects of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and California law, which costs low-wage workers billions of dollars every year.
Wage and Hour Violations
Employers violate the FLSA and California law in myriad ways. Employers may intentionally misclassify formal employees as independent contractors, or as exempt from the FLSA. They may not pay tipped workers their full minimum wage, and in some cases they may allow managers, who are not tipped workers, to “skim” off the top of the employee tip pool each day.
They might refuse to pay employees costly overtime pay or decline to pay time and a half to employees who work more than 40 hours in a given week. Some employers even go so far as to falsify timesheets to get out of paying hard-working employees the full amount they owe them for their work.
According to the Department of Labor, jobs that tend to employ Hispanics and Black people are the most common offenders of these “wage and hour” violations. The DOL recently identified some of the biggest violating industries in their 2020 report.
One such industry is construction. Hispanics make up only about 17% of the total American workforce but account for over 30% of construction industry employees. Another of the biggest offenders is the agriculture industry, which also includes farming, hunting, forestry. In 2020, employers in the agriculture industry owed over $7 million in back wages to over 11,000 workers, a whopping 37% of whom are Hispanic. California has special protections for agricultural workers unavailable in other states.
Many workers may not realize that they don’t have to clock out for lunch breaks or that they are entitled to overtime pay (at least 1.5 times the normal hourly rate) if they work more than 40 hours per week. But even those who do know their rights often decide not to report a violation, usually for fear that their employer will retaliate by reducing their hours or their pay, or by suspending or terminating them.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) actually found that a fifth of all minimum-wage workers questioned in their sample group had reported wage and hour violations by their employer, and out of that group, almost half of them had experienced some form of retaliation. This is particularly concerning for undocumented workers in industries like agriculture, construction, and food service, whose employers may threaten to call immigration authorities as a form of punishment.
Contact a California Employment Lawyer
Low-wage workers, many of whom come from already marginalized groups, suffer the most from wage and hour violations, which makes employers who violate the law particularly inhumane. If you are a victim of employment discrimination or a wage and hour violation, contact one of our California wage and hour attorneys to discuss your rights and how we can help.
Don’t let your employer get away with underpaying you for your hard work or ignoring your rights as an employee. We’ll be ready to stand up and fight for the fair compensation you’re owed. Call us at (951) 363-3923 or reach out to us online for a confidential consultation.