Aug 7, 2016
Hundreds of food service workers in the United States Senate recently learned that their employers had been paying them less than they had to by law—by about 1 million dollars. The Department of Labor announced that federal contractors had underpaid their employees using two of the oldest tricks in the book; having workers work off the clock, and misclassifying workers.
Making workers work off the clock is common but illegal. Your boss tells you to sweep up a few things or unlock the doors before you clock in; that’s work, and you are entitled to be paid for the time. Sometimes these little things don’t seem like a big deal when they happen, but they add up, and collectively they end up costing workers a lot of money in the long run.
Misclassifying workers involves mischaracterizing a worker’s relationship with the company. In this case, since the workers were paid with taxpayer dollars, the contractor was required by law to pay them wages that are competitive with those for similar jobs in the same area (i.e. “prevailing wages”)—in this case, Washington D.C. The contractor was dishonest about the nature of the jobs of many of the employees; some workers who cooked food were classified as food servers, so the contractor didn’t have to pay them the wages of a chef.
Misclassification of employees doesn’t just happen to workers who are paid by taxpayers through public contracts. The most common form of worker misclassification is when an employer falsely classifies someone who works for them as an “independent contractor” instead of as an “employee.” Employers don’t have to pay independent contractors minimum wage, overtime, or other benefits, so some try to break the law by classifying workers who are their employees as independent contractors. If your employer doesn’t automatically deduct some of your pay for income and other taxes, chances are you are being classified as an independent contractor. If you don’t think you are an independent contractor but your employer is classifying you as one, you should immediately contact a lawyer.
Written content provided by Mackenzie Pantoja (Law Clerk with Minnillo & Jenkins Co., LPA)