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Everyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.  Some employers, however, feel that the best way to increase profits is to take advantage of naive employees and exploit them by either paying them less than they earned or not paying them at all; in other words, wage theft. Thankfully, the District has laws in place that help you get the money you have earned.

First, who is a target for wage theft? One of the most exploitable groups of people is undocumented immigrants; their status makes them a prime target for unscrupulous employers, who utilize fear and take full advantage of the lack of knowledge about the laws to underpay the workers. Employers can also exploit undocumented workers by threatening to call immigration authorities if they attempt to stop wage theft or stand up for their rights. Uneducated workers are also a prime target because they tend to be easier to intimidate and often are not aware of their rights or the resources available to them.

To fight wage theft, keep good records of the hours you work. This is especially possible if your employer uses an electronic payroll system to handle personnel matters. (The company would require you to have a password so you can log in to request time off, etc.) If they use one, you should check it frequently to make sure your records match with the employer’s and try to make copies in case there are disputes.

The District’s Wage Theft Protection Amendment Act also protects workers from wage theft. The law requires employers to make any notices available for employees and also requires employers keep detailed and accurate records of exactly when the employee worked. The law also includes strict financial penalties for employers if they violate the law.

Importantly, the law also stops employers from retaliation. If you file a complaint alleging a violation of wage theft, the employer cannot take any action against you for 90 days that is considered to be retaliatory. For example, if you have worked 35 hours a week and file a complaint when overtime is not paid, and then your hours are reduced to 28, it would be considered retaliatory. The employer is also required to pay your attorney’s fees if you win, and, in some cases, you can collect liquidated damages of up to 3 times the wages you were owed.

And this law will only become more vital. The District is moving toward a $15 minimum wage and employers are moving their offices over the river into Virginia, where the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the federal standard. This becomes problematic when an employee works for an employer that does most of its work in the District (such as catering) but is based in Virginia; that employer should be required to pay the D.C minimum wage while in the district, but may not.

If you suspect that your employer is in violation, talk to the people at the Employment Justice Center – all for free. The center holds workers right clinics on Wednesday evenings at Bread for the City NW (1525 Seventh St NW) from 5 to 9 p.m. or on the last Saturday of every month at Bread for the City SE (1640 Good Hope Road SE) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Neighborhood Legal Services Office (2811 Pennsylvania Ave SE) also holds clinics on the first and third Friday of every month.

Employers may try to intimidate you because they feel they have the upper hand and that you will give in to their tactics. Don’t let them. You work hard for your money and deserve to be paid for all of your work.

Arthur Johnson is a Street Sense contributor. If you have any questions or comments about this article, email [email protected].