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White collar workers are being affected by wage theft

There is an economic argument popular with conservatives concerning why the government should not set minimum wages or otherwise interfere with pay structures. The argument insists that without government interference, each employee's true economic value will become apparent because "the market" will determine what their work is worth.

However, this argument is based on the assumption that no other entities or individuals are tampering with market forces in an effort to deprive workers of the wages they deserve. Unfortunately, that assumption is false. In recent years, wage and hour disputes have become commonplace because an increasing number of employers are engaging in wage theft.

It is commonly assumed that the only workers vulnerable to wage theft are those in low-paying jobs such as those in the service sector. Employers often try to cheat these workers out of money they have earned by paying less than minimum wage, misclassifying them, refusing to pay overtime or misappropriating tips.

Wage theft among blue-collar workers has traditionally been and continues to be a major problem. But few people realize that white-collar workers are increasingly having their wages artificially depressed by the major corporations they work for.

Among the most prominent examples of this is an antitrust lawsuit that was recently filed against four major software companies: Google, Apple, Adobe and Intel. It was filed on behalf of nearly 65,000 software engineers who were allegedly cheated out of $3 billion in wages over a four-year period.

When companies want to recruit the best and brightest from other companies, they usually do so by offering higher wages and better benefits/perks. The lawsuit alleges that between 2005 and 2009, these four companies colluded to keep employee wages low by agreeing not to compete with one another for talent. In essence, this is wage theft at the white-collar level.

Hopefully, the fact that wage theft now appears to be a problem at all levels of employment will motivate the Justice Department to invest more heavily in fighting the problem. In the meantime, if you suspect that part of your wages have been stolen or artificially depressed by your employer, please speak with an experienced employment law attorney who can explain your rights and options.

Source: The New York Times, "Wage Theft Across the Board," The Editorial Board, April 21, 2014

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