While washing the dishes this morning and listening to WGBH, I heard this story on wage theft and the work of the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division, where, until 2014, I used to work:
According to Cindy Mark, Chief of the AG's Fair Labor Division, there are just too many cases of wage theft for the Attorney General’s office to process.
“Every year, the Attorney General’s office gets over 6,000 complaints from workers that, honestly, we can’t handle," she said. "We cannot investigate and enforce 6,000 complaints every year.”
In my experience, this is true. There are just not enough resources available to handle investigating -- not to mention enforcing -- 6,000 wage and hour cases.
(And on top of just state investigations of wage claims, just last week I wrote a similar post about discrimination investigations and the caseload at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), where, among other things, the state auditor revealed that over a three-year period each investigator had a caseload of approximately 200 to 300 cases.)
What my own experience, the current statements of the Attorney General's Fair Labor chief, as well as the state auditor's report of the MCAD make clear: if the state legislature wants to enable more comprehensive investigation and enforcement of wage and/or discrimination cases, they must increase the budgets of those two agencies.
And, make no mistake, the tremendous caseloads at the agencies exist despite the hard work of the staff. For seven years, I routinely worked longer hours than I was paid for, for example, and I certainly was not the only one.
As another example, when other state employees were being required to take furlough (unpaid leave) because of state budget shortages during the downturn, I and other employees volunteered for the furlough in solidarity, despite the fact it meant we had no personal income over that period.
In short, the issue here is not lack of employee commitment.
But what types of cases does the Fair Labor Division investigate and enforce? WGBH got it right when describing what are known as "wage and hour" cases:
Wage theft extends beyond just not being paid. It also includes failure to pay for overtime, working off the clock, being paid under the state minimum wage and illegal salary deductions..... Michael Denham, a practitioner with Lawyers for Affordable Justice, said many people “don’t realize they’re being taken advantage of by their employers.” And if they do, he said, they often feel helpless.
I do not dissuade people from filing cases at the Attorney General's Office or the MCAD by any means. The work both agencies do is tremendous and valuable, and every year, they help multitudes. That said, as any lawyer ought to do in all respects, I always counsel my clients around what to expect.
If you have a case involving any of the above and want to talk, contact me.