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Some employers have always played things loose-and-free when it comes to their employees’ wages. They find ways to deduct a little extra here and skim a few minutes off the payroll there — mostly without getting caught. It pads their accounts and — all too often — enriches the company at the expense of hard-working Americans.

How bad is the wage-theft problem? It’s estimated that around $3 billion is sucked out of employee paychecks every year. Here’s how it happens:

  • Electronic timekeeping software that rounds employer pay and imposes automatic deductions for your unpaid breaks — and doesn’t account for all of the time that you’re asked to start early, work through a break, come out of your lunch early and so on.
  • Hiring you as an unpaid intern when you are doing nothing but grunt work and deriving no real learning benefit of your own. When you aren’t getting class credit or other valuable training, you’re supposed to be paid minimum wage.
  • Docking your pay for things like a broken cup or a damaged piece of machinery, or other expenses that aren’t allowed by law or consent.
  • Giving you a management title without the corresponding elevation in duties and pay — just so that the company can make you a salaried employee and try to avoid giving you overtime.
  • Shifting the hours you are due in one week to another week’s payroll, just to keep you below the 40-hour mark and away from overtime.
  • Asking you to help open before you clock in or asking you to clock out and stay to close — something that is commonly seen in the restaurant industry.
  • Punishing you for taking advantage of your sick leave — which means that it’s a wage benefit that you aren’t really being given.
  • Misclassifying you as an independent contractor — without giving you the freedom to set your hours, decline work, hire assistants and more.

These practices can take thousands out of your pocket (and the pockets of everyone you work with) each year — so fight back against illegal wage theft whenever it happens.