Victims of wage theft in Connecticut received a total of $6.1 million in recovered wages during the past fiscal year, the Connecticut Department of Labor announced this week.
The $6.1 million that the State Department of Labor’s Division of Wage and Workplace Standards recovered was split among different types of wage complaints, including not being paid overtime or being paid below the minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. One of the largest categories of recovered wages went to workers who had not been fully compensated for working at public contract construction sites — these workers were repaid over $1.6 million.
“The working women and men who are the backbone of our state should get paid for the jobs they do and receive the wages they rightfully earn,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a Sunday press release. “The $6.1 million collected by the Labor Department’s investigation reflects the importance we place on protecting our state’s workforce, as well as law-abiding employers.”
Director of the Wage and Workplace Standards Division Gary Pechie said that the department typically recovers between $4.5 million to $10 million each year.
Employees and former employees who believe they have not been paid adequate wages can fill out complaint forms on the DOL website. Employees at the Wage and Workplace Standards Division evaluate each form individually in order to determine whether the employer’s behavior warrants further investigation. If so, the division sends an investigator to perform an audit on the accused employer, Pechie said.
“If there’s grounds for concern, our strategy is to continuously raise the ante on the employer,” Pechie said. “We present employers ample opportunity to either show why they don’t owe the money or to pay the money without taking legal distinction against them. We’re not a collection agency, we’re an enforcement agency.”
The Department of Labor typically receives roughly 5,000 complaints a year, Pechie said. Pechie estimates that about 55 percent of them are substantiated while the other 45 percent are dismissed after an investigation.
Pechie also said that accused employers commonly attempt to justify their actions by making attacks on their employee’s personal character, blaming them for negligence, drug habits and otherwise inappropriate behavior on the job.
“Be that as it may, you still need to pay your workers the money you owe them,” Pechie said. “That’s how our legal system works. It can get crazy sometimes, and you get people who would rather go to jail than pay another person $600.”
He added that investigators often play more of a role in mediating personal disagreements between employers and employees rather than threatening legal action. However, if accusations go to trial, employees can face trial by jury, hefty fines and jail sentences.
In addition to pressing employers to grant employees proper compensation, the Wage and Workplace Standards Division also investigated 253 cases involving labor law violations. Inspectors issued citations to employers for personnel file violations, permitting night work of minors in manufacturing and mechanical businesses, permitting work of minors at improper work hours, hazardous employment of minors and minors working in prohibited jobs, among other breaches of the law.
“It is especially important to realize the importance of ensuring that all of our laws — be it those pertaining to minimum wage, overtime or child labor — are understood and followed,” Department of Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer said in a press release.