Wage theft in Rhode Island may be a much bigger problem than robbery. And, as Steve Ahlquist previously reported, even high profile violators may be getting away with a slap on the wrist with workers left with little recourse.
Thanks to a bill introduced by Representative Shekarchi and Senator Nesselbush, now passed by the House and Senate, that will change upon the Governor’s signature.
In written testimony supporting the bill, the Rhode Island chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America (RIPDA) summarized how the bill makes a difference:
The bill improves the current law in several ways. First, in redefining “employee,” the protected class is broadened to generally include “independent contractors” (minus the groups that have been specifically excluded). Second, it provides for the State to suspend a non-compliant business’ license. Third, it allows employees to recover double damages and attorneys’ fees from a wage-stealing employer.
Not only does this bill deter unscrupulous employers from stealing from employees with suspension of a business’ license, but, for those who are deprived of their rightful wages, the bill gives a real solution. Instead of merely filing with the Department of Labor and Training, employees will be able to sue directly and recover twice as much as was stolen from them. Attorneys are encouraged to take meritorious cases — if successful, the employee’s lawyer is entitled to be paid by the employer.
The most financially vulnerable among us are targets of wage theft. The biggest challenge remains: Employees need to be aware of their rights, and have the courage to seek legal help when standing up to unethical and manipulative bosses.