Since the most recent downturn, a growing number of employers have violated wage and labor laws.  Employers have increasingly denied workers benefits and mandatory overtime pay, according to workers’ advocates.  Some have doctored time sheets and even failed to pay minimum wage.  The practice is widespread in low-wage jobs such as waiting tables or cleaning hotel rooms but has been bleeding into middle class professions.

Studies show that victims can lose up to 20 percent of their earnings due to what those advocates call “wage theft.”

Lawsuits alleging wage and labor law violations have skyrocketed, and state and federal officials have beefed up scrutiny.  The U.S. Department of Labor has hired 300 more investigators, and state lawmakers are drafting legislation to provide new protections to cheated workers.

The business community has opposed some legislative measures but said it supports strong enforcement of the laws because by underpaying employees, scofflaws introduce false competition into the market.  Business groups also say recession and its lingering effects left many employers cutting back while struggling to stay in business.  Many workers are grateful to have work in a tight job market and too scared to speak up, said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project.

Aggrieved workers can take their cases either to law enforcement or to civil court.  The number of lawsuits alleging employment violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act has more than tripled in the past decade, according to an annual study released a national law firm specializing in labor and employment law.  More than 7,000 lawsuits were filed from March 2011 to March 2012, up from 2,035 for the same period in 2002.  Texas Payday Act claims are also on the rise alleging employers’ failure to pay Texas workers.

Meanwhile, U.S. Labor department investigators collected more than $280 million in back wages last year, nearly $100 million more than investigators recovered four years earlier as the recession was getting under way.

The Labor Department has launched an initiative to crack down on businesses that wrongfully classify employees as independent contractors to avoid paying overtime and benefits, and has signed an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service to share information to stop worker misclassification.

If your employer has not been paying you for overtime or is misclassifying you to avoid paying benefits, contact wage and overtime attorneys Andrew Traub and Dominic Audino.