On the heels of a report stating that Florida is the 15th worst state in the nation for workers trying to recover stolen wages, the Broward County Commission directed the county attorney to draft a wage theft ordinance, following the examples of Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. The report issued by the Progressive States Network graded states based on how well they protect workers ability to receive their earned wages. According to the report, if this were school, Florida would have flunked out by now.
In particular, Florida has exactly zero laws on the books that would incentivize employers to stay honest. Transparency and accountability measures such as notice to employees of wages and paydays, record-keeping, pay stubs with each pay period, and the right for enforcement agencies to inspect records also help workers keep abreast of their terms of employment. In this category, Florida held the shameful honor of scoring 0, a score that only Alabama and Mississippi -- two states that have never had wage and hour laws -- can also share.
Other ways in which Florida's wage theft laws are insufficient:
- The state has decent provisions in place that protect workers from employers who fire, demote, or otherwise discriminate against an employee who has taken action to recover wages. However, the laws only apply to minimum wage and overtime cases; if someone is trying to recover wages beyond the minimum wage, they remain unprotected.
Fortunately for South Floridians, Miami-Dade County passed the state's first wage theft ordinance in February 2010, fully implementing the ordinance late that year and securing through conciliation or hearings almost a million dollars for over 600 workers during the first year and a half of the program. Although the Florida Retail Federation (FRF) and Associated Builders and Contractors have pushed back against the successful wage theft ordinance both in court and at the legislative level, the ordinance has withstood the pressure. In April 2012, a judge threw out the lawsuit brought by the FRF, calling the Miami-Dade Wage Theft Program "a responsible and reasonable exercise of government authority."
Small business owners in particular have spoken out in favor of the ordinance with one arborist commenting that it's tough enough to do business in this economy without having to stand next to a pirate while you do it. Palm Beach County is currently drafting its own wage theft ordinance after piloting a Legal Aid Society Wage Theft Program, which was not as successful as sponsors had hoped. Hopefully, the rest of the state will soon follow the example set by South Florida and we'll begin to see passing grades throughout the state. Florida needs economic enhancement not economic hindrance.
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