Some companies in low-income industries are skimping on paychecks.
WASHINGTON - For nearly a year, unemployed home health worker Leslie Gilbert of Grand Rapids, Mich., has fought to get more than $400 in unpaid wages from her former employer.
After months of promises that the money would be in her "next paycheck," Gilbert filed a complaint in October with the state. Officials told Focus Care Home Health of Southfield, Mich., to either pay Gilbert by June 1 or face a formal hearing.
Gilbert still doesn't have her money.
Her experience is a classic example of what workers' rights advocates call "wage theft," the practice of underpaying or not paying workers for their labor.
The problem reflects a changing economy in which low-wage work has increased, more companies try to cut labor costs to stay afloat in a sour business climate, and fewer workers belong to unions that might protect them. At the same time, state and federal governments do not enforce wage laws as aggressively as they once did.
Wage theft can be as simple as stealing tips from restaurant servers, illegal deductions from a worker's paycheck or failing to pay overtime or the legal minimum wage. It also can take other forms, such as classifying workers as "independent contractors" to avoid paying unemployment insurance.
Millions of workers are losing pay, with the majority in low-income service industries such as fast food, domestic work, agriculture, retail, hotel and tourism and home health care.
Gilbert thought she had finally won her claim when a supervisor called to tell her a check was on its way.
"Then he told me that when the check gets to me, I should send it back because it doesn't have a signature on it," Gilbert said.
Officials at Focus Care did not return calls to comment on Gilbert's situation.