Blog Posts > Wage Theft in West Virginia: Solutions for a Hidden Epidemic
August 28, 2019

Wage Theft in West Virginia: Solutions for a Hidden Epidemic

Wage theft is one of the most prevalent but under-reported problems confronting working people in the United States. Wage theft is a violation of workers’ rights in which an employer fails to pay an employee what that employee is owed. The national scale of wage theft is tremendous. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the estimated value of wages stolen through violations of federal and state minimum wage laws—just one of several different types of wage theft—alone was $15 billion in 2015, easily eclipsing the $12.7 billion stolen through all reported robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and car thefts in the same year. Read full report.

The toolbox available to victimized workers for the recovery of money taken by their employers is remarkably weak, both nationally and on the state level. Lawmakers and regulators in West Virginia, however, can remedy this by eliminating the two-tiered minimum wage system, increasing funding for the Division of Labor for the investigation of wage theft claims, and implementing harsher penalties for employers who commit wage theft.

Wage theft disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable segments of the workforce. Low-wage workers—those in the worst position to lose money out of their paychecks—are wage theft’s biggest victims. Tipped workers, who tend to be female, younger, and less educated than the rest of the labor market, are one of the most impacted worker groups. Wage theft keeps hard-earned money out of the hands of workers for whom every dollar counts.

Key Findings

  • From 2008–2017, $7.7 million in back wages were recovered in more than 15,000 cases of wage theft in West Virginia. Based on national estimates, West Virginia workers likely lost as much as $90 million to minimum wage violations in 2015.
  • Full-service restaurants and building construction were the West Virginia industries whose workers received the greatest amounts in back wages.
  • Nationally, female workers are more likely than male workers to experience wage theft, and African American workers suffer wage theft at three times the rate suffered by white workers.
  • West Virginia lawmakers can help stop wage theft by eliminating the separate tipped minimum wage, requiring treble damages for violations, and penalizing employers by revoking their ability to do business in or with the state.


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