Researchers say most often, the worst consequence an employer will face for wage theft is to pay back a portion of stolen wages.
A new report
found dishonest employers steal from some 213,000 people in Ohio each year by paying them less than the minimum wage; and it is just one type of wage theft.
According to the analysis from the think tank Policy Matters Ohio, other forms of wage theft include nonpayment for all hours worked, not paying time and a half for hours worked overtime, and misclassifying workers as nonsalaried to avoid overtime pay.
Ernest Hatton of Cleveland said he experienced wage theft at a time when he was working a security job for nearly 60 hours a week.
"My supervisor asked me if I would mind if they would take away eight hours in exchange for a vacation day because payroll couldn't handle the amount of money that they claimed I was going to make, so they needed to offset that," Hatton recounted. "I didn't know that was illegal."
Among wage theft victims in Ohio, 8% earn $11.44 per hour or less. The average victim loses $55 per week, which equals about a quarter of their pay, based on the minimum wage, which amounts to more than $2,800 a year on average.
The report found Hispanic people are 71% more likely to become victims than their white counterparts.
Ghandi Merida of Cincinnati, a wage theft victim from Mexico, believes an employer who stole wages from him intentionally recruited Hispanic workers.
"And they promise, like, $30 or $27 when he only pays $20 and $22," Merida asserted. "He just wants to take a lot of advantage of Hispanic workers because (they) cannot speak English, and they cannot say anything, so you can't speak up for yourself."
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act
, which he said will crack down on wage-theft practices and empower Ohioans to fight back.
"So many workers never report these violations," Brown noted. "Why? Because they're afraid of retaliation. I mean, who holds the power here? These are rarely union shops, so companies hold the power. "
At the state level, the report calls for requiring employers to provide pay stubs, so workers are better informed of wages; beef up wage and hour enforcement; and recognize informally classified workers as employees who can be protected by labor laws.
Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.