Legislature toughens requirements for paying last wages
August 27, 2010
• Must pay within 90 days of face penalties
• ‘To strengthen the hand of prosecutors’
The California Legislature has passed a measure, that if signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, establishes new criminal penalties against employers who, having the ability to pay, willfully fail to pay all wages due to discharged or quitting employees within 90 days.
Employers would be facing fines “not less than $1,000 and not more than $10,000, or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than six months.”
“This bill closes a gap in California’s criminal laws that allows an unscrupulous employer to continue to refuse to pay wages due indefinitely without incurring any additional criminal liability,” says Assemblyman Juan Arambula (I-Fresno), author of the legislation.
Mr. Arambula says there is substantial evidence of the problem being widespread in California, particularly in the underground economy. He points to recent studies by UCLA, "Wage Theft and Workplace
Violations in Los Angeles,"(2010) and the Ford Foundation, "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers," (2009) that found that more than one quarter of all workers surveyed were not being paid the minimum wage.
“We found in Los Angeles County alone, more than $26 million dollars a week was stolen from low-wage workers,” says Victor Narro, UCLA professor and co-author of the 2010 UCLA study.
Mark Schacht, deputy director of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, the sponsor of the legislation, says that in 2008, the state cited just 265 employers in the entire state for violations of minimum wage or overtime laws. “And in 2009, only 216 employers were cited for violating these laws,” he says.
Mr. Schacht notes that the state has fewer wage and hour enforcement officers than it had in 1980 despite a 30 percent growth in the workforce since then.
“The underlying purpose of this bill is to strengthen the hand of prosecutors and send them a message that wage theft is not simply a civil matter,” says Mr. Arambula, “It is a serious crime that undermines families’ abilities to take care of themselves in these difficult times, and it should be treated as such.”