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Anti-Wage Theft Website Informs Workers of New Protections

Virginia Interfaith Center
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy gathered in support of raising the minimum wage in Richmond, Va. on February 2, 2019. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Labor advocates launched a new website Monday to help combat what experts call a wage theft “epidemic” in Virginia. The website offers legal resources for workers and informs them about workplace protections.

The Wage Theft VA website was launched by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, an advocacy coalition dedicated to matters of criminal justice, workers’ rights, environmental racism and immigration. Kim Bobo, the group’s executive director, says recent changes in labor law make the website necessary.

“It used to be under the law that if you filed a complaint, you could be fired,” Bobo said. “Now there's protection against retaliation. Now, if [workers] file a complaint and something happens to them, they can get their job back. Attorneys can help them get their job back.”

Wage theft occurs when employers neglect to properly compensate workers. Examples of wage theft include: Not being paid time-and-a-half for overtime, being paid under the minimum wage, being asked to work off the clock, or being misclassified as an independent contractor when one actually meets IRS criteria for being an employee.

Bobo says the website is intended to inform workers of their legal rights, but it’s also a way for lawyers to get up to speed on the new laws. It’s also a space for workers to get in touch with lawyers, and to get in touch with one another to organize.

The website offers resources in English and Spanish. Bobo says wage theft disproportionately impacts the immigrant community — especially undocumented immigrants. Refugees and people who were formerly incarcerated are also frequent victims due to fears of speaking out against labor violations.

“Any sector where workers feel vulnerable are sectors that folks are likely to be victims of wage theft,” Bobo said. She added that wage theft is common in construction, landscaping, meatpacking and back-of-house restaurant jobs. 

Several workers have alleged widespread wage theft at construction sites at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and also at some nearby government sites. Similar complaints have also been made on construction sites at Virginia Tech, Old Dominion University and other schools throughout the state.

Yanet
FILE PHOTO: Yanet Limon-Amado speaking at a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals press event in Richmond, Va. on January 31, 2019. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Yanet Limon-Amado was mainly in charge of setting up the new website. She says despite the epidemic proportions of wage theft, laborers she works with are frequently unaware of what protections they’re entitled to due to a lack of resources.

“There's barely any information about these laws. They barely know what wage theft is here in Virginia,” she said. One of the most important details to highlight, she says, is that undocumented immigrants are entitled to legal protections under Virginia’s labor laws.

Besides information on wage theft, the Center’s new website also includes information regarding pregnancy discrimination and accommodations employers are legally required to make for pregnant workers. It also informs workers about COVID-19 protections they’re entitled to in the workplace.