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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Tough times could lead employers to put the squeeze on workers

It's no secret that people in Fresno, California, are feeling the effects of the weak economy. While individuals and families do what they can to get by, cutting out unnecessary expenses whenever possible, employers and businesses are doing the same thing. In some cases, however, that can lead to violations of California or federal wage and hour laws.

Proof of this can be found in the growing number of workers who are filing formal complaints and lawsuits over their employers not treating them appropriately under the Fair Labor Standards Act. So far this year there have been more than 7,000 lawsuits filed over wage and hour disputes, which already tops the number from the entirety of last year.

What could account for this? Some surmise that the economy is driving it -- when layoffs occur, sometimes employers feel freer to impose their will on the remaining employees. Additionally, laws around overtime and other provisions can be murky, leading to disputes that can't be resolved without legal action.

The Department of Labor has also gotten more aggressive with enforcing standards when it comes to those people who are reluctant to come forward on their own: seasonal or migrant workers, many of whom have limited English language abilities, or low-paid workers who might see little benefit to challenging an employer.

However, there is recourse available. According to statistics from the Labor Department's wage and hour division, nearly a quarter of a billion dollars' worth of back wages were collected in 2011 on behalf of more than a quarter of a million workers.

Source: Today, "Growing number of workers complain about being shortchanged," Eve Tahmincioglu, July 26, 2012

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