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Michigan woman reports wage theft against her employer

A Grand Rapids, Michigan, woman has filed a wage and hour claim, contending she is owed more than $400 in unpaid earnings.

The woman, a former home health worker, has been seeking payment for more than a year and finally filed a complaint with the state in October 2011. Even though the state issued her former employer a June 1 deadline for the payment, she has yet to see it.

The woman appears to be a victim of what now is known as wage theft, which occurs when workers are underpaid or not paid at all for the hours they log on the job. Experts said she was caught in a perfect storm: state and federal governments don't have the money to enforce laws as vehemently as they would like to, and more companies have tried to stay in business in a bad economy by shortchanging workers.

Wage theft encompasses everything from failing to pay overtime to taking illegal deductions from a paycheck. It also includes things such as calling an employee an independent contractor to get out of having to pay certain benefits. The most frequent victims of wage thefts are those in low-income industries, such as retail, restaurants, or as with the Michigan woman, home health care.

In a 2009 study of nearly 4,400 workers in three major cities, about two out of three said that they suffered from some sort of wage theft on a weekly basis. They reported underpayment or no payment of earnings, as well as being paid below minimum wage.

The Michigan woman has struggled to make ends meets and needs the paycheck she says she is due. Her insurance benefits have run out and she uses food stamps. Since she didn't receive the check by the June 1 deadline, the company now will be called to appear at a hearing. She is at least the third employee to have complained about the company. One of the cases was settled and the other was sent to the Michigan attorney general for review.

Source: McClatchy Newspapers, "'Wage theft' becoming frequent practice in US," Tony Pugh, June 4, 2012

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