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Wage Theft Playbook
February 2020
Table of Contents

Wage theft is a catchall term for a range of situations in which an employer fails to pay an employee. It can take many forms—from employers paying employees less than the minimum wage or failing to pay overtime to withholding tips, not providing employees with their final paycheck, or requiring employees to work off the clock. These forms of theft hurt working families by threatening basic living standards and causing economic instability, reducing tax revenues, and harming local economies and businesses that follow the rules. 

To improve upon federal protections, states have enacted legislation to address wage theft, including increasing the cost to employers for violating wage and hour laws, targeting bad actors to prevent repeat offenses, empowering state and local wage enforcement authorities, and improving small claims court administrative processes for wage theft cases. While these measures have begun to address the problem in certain states, wage theft remains a significant issue in most of the country, with one study finding that 68% of respondents had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the last week alone. 

Wage theft covers a variety of infractions that occur when working people do not receive their legally or contractually promised wages.

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Our Wage Theft “Policy Playbook” is a summary of resources that we have compiled from state and national advocates, organizers, and leading policy organizations across the country. Here you will find communications and messaging guidance, a menu of policy solutions, legislative language, and national organizations and experts who can support your efforts. 

As a reminder, legislators are always encouraged to work with state partners to assess the local and state dynamics and to craft the strongest and most feasible legislation for their state—ensuring alignment with the work of groups in the field. On a related note, this resource is not meant to supersede working with advocacy organizations and policy experts to chart the most effective path for introducing such legislation. To get connected to state and national groups or individual experts on this topic, or to receive support on legislative research or drafting, please contact SiX Action at: helpdesk@stateinnovation.org.

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