Written by Troy Elder Friday, 08 July 2011 00:00
Gay Latinos often approach me with complaints about having not been paid everything they are owed by their employer. Sometimes, the employer has failed to pay them the minimum wage, or for overtime. Other times, the employer has not paid them for all the hours worked during a normal week.
For Latinos and immigrants without legal status, this is particularly worrisome, because in addition to the money that is lost, there is a fear that, if the employee complains, the employer might retaliate by reporting the worker to immigration enforcement.
It is a big problem for the employees within the restaurant, hotel, and service industry, which are major employers in South Florida.
For LGBT Latinos, many of whom fear returning to their home country for fear of persecution this is an even bigger problem. Without the wages that they have earned and are owed, their situation becomes even more difficult.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Last year, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners approved a Wage Theft Ordinance, which was written to make it easier for employees to take legal action against employers that fail to pay (or underpay) them. After a lengthy campaign by workers, churches, community organizers, lawyers – and, I am proud to say, including a few of my own FIU law students – Miami-Dade became the first county in the nation to adopt a law of this type.
This law allows employees to recover back wages from employers who have wrongly withheld them. In the year since the law went into effect, workers have already won over $110,000 in unpaid wages from employers.
Under the new law, an employee with a wage theft claim of $60 or more can bring a complaint before a county hearing examiner.
If an employee wins his or her case, the employer must pay him or her triple the amount of disputed wages. In addition, an employer found “guilty” of wage theft will be required to pay for the costs of the hearing. And if an employer refuses to pay the wages owed to a victorious employee, the case will move to Miami-Dade County Court.
It is important to remember, though, that an employee must file a complaint within one year of the work that went unpaid.
If you think you have been the victim of wage theft, call Miami-Dade County at 305.375.3146.
Troy E. Elder is a professor of immigration and human rights law at Florida International University.