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What can a Texas employer do to prevent wage theft claims?

The issue of wage theft is one that has been popping up more and more on the stage of public interest. Last month, KEYE-TV ran a story saying that it's estimated that about 20 percent of workers in the Texas construction trades are being shorted on pay. Similar claims of rampant wage theft in the home care industry have made international headlines.

Most employers in Texas do the right thing by their workers, but that doesn't mean that they are immune to compliance complaints by employees. Considering that being found guilty of such claims can lead to potentially harsh civil and criminal penalties under federal and state law, it is important to present a strong defense when they arise. And it makes just as much sense to take precautionary measures to prevent them from being made. How should that be done?

There are a number of possible answers to the question. But professionals with experience in this area of law generally agree there are some clear steps that can be taken. Specifically, they recommend:

  • Elevating awareness. HR should be tasked with providing annual training to managers and employees alike on changes in wage and hour policies that might be made by the company or brought about by changes in law. Workers should also be provided opportunities, facilitated by HR, to bring up concerns when they have them.
  • Keeping job descriptions and duties up to date. Job misclassification is a big concern and one that is growing. Making sure that an employee is properly classified as exempt or nonexempt and is paid according to applicable laws is crucial.
  • Watching for red flags. Experts observe that orders to keep payroll costs down can lead some managers to step up requests for volunteers and interns. This can boost risk of possible wage theft issues. Compliance with the law isn't optional.
  • Pushing for accountability. If a competitor is ignoring wage and hour laws, you shouldn't have to pay for it. Many experts agree the way to avoid the cost is to speak up and report the violations to authorities. Internally, an audit by an outside attorney may be useful.

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, "How HR Can Prevent Wage Theft," accessed Aug. 13, 2015

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