What Exactly is Wage Theft?

In a perfect world, employers would be completely honest with their employees. And if you work hard, you get a good paycheque. 

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

The truth is, wage theft is a growing problem across Canada. Worker forums have shown that one of the most common complaints from workers in Canada is non-payment of wages. In Alberta alone, over the last three years, there have been more than 6,000 wage theft claims. When you don’t have anyone looking out for your rights in the workplace, it is a huge issue that can seem impossible to tackle. 

Here is what you need to know about wage theft.

What Exactly Is It?

What makes wage theft so hard to tackle is just how many forms of it there are. Many think of wage theft as just not paying overtime, but it’s so much more. The most common forms of wage theft include being forced to work off the clock, stealing tips, not paying holiday or vacation pay, working through breaks, misclassifying workers, illegal deductions on paycheques and sometimes not even paying workers at all. 

What Industries Does It Happen In?

Wage theft is often characterized as only happening in low-wage industries, but that is not always the case. Although wage theft is more common in precarious work, because workers are vulnerable and less likely to speak up, it can happen in almost any industry. In many higher-paying industries wage theft happens when employees are working weekends and evenings without being paid or completing work outside of the scope of a contract without getting paid. 

How Can Employers Get Away with It?

The sad fact is employers keep doing this because it is so easy to get away with. Many businesses even build these types of violations into their plans to maximize their profits. It becomes easier and cheaper to violate these rules, rather than trying to follow the law. There has been little enforcement by the government to crack down, and they mostly rely on receiving complaints to act on anything. Relying on employees in precarious positions, who are afraid to lose their job is completely unreasonable.

What is the Government Doing to Prevent It?

The Alberta government has been stepping up their crackdown on employers who are guilty of wage theft, and it’s about time. As of last year, the government reported that they had a total of $19 million in unpaid wages. In June 2018, the government sent out letters giving employers one last chance to settle before starting formal investigations. They have also hired 23 additional employment standards officers to investigate and enforce regulations concerning fair compensation.

What Should You Do If You Experience Wage Theft?

Dealing with wage theft can be daunting, especially if you don’t even know where to start to do something about it. Talking to your employer is usually the first step, but if that goes without any action there are things you can do. You can file a complaint with Alberta Employment Standards directly online with no fee attached. If you’re filing a complaint you must give your name and contact information. You can also choose to submit an anonymous tip that won’t have your name associated with it. All of the information you need to file a complaint is listed online. You can also call them toll-free at 1-877-427-3731 if you have any other questions.

Another option is to seek union representation. Without having a collective agreement at work, wage theft is much easier to get away with. If you are part of a union you can file a complaint and your union representative will deal with it right away. This ensures that you not only get the wage you are owed, but that you don’t have to worry about getting fired or reprimanded for bringing it up.  

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