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Harsher Penalties for Shoplifters than for Employers Stealing Wages

Retailers and shoplifters are stealing equal amounts in the U.S., according to a new report about the prevalence of wage theft. (U.S. Dept. of Labor)
Retailers and shoplifters are stealing equal amounts in the U.S., according to a new report about the prevalence of wage theft. (U.S. Dept. of Labor)
June 19, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Retail employers are stealing as much from their employees as shoplifters steal from their stores, according to a new report.

Progressive policy group Demos compared minimum wage theft data from the Economic Policy Institute with shoplifting data from the Global Retail Theft Barometer. Between 2013 and 2015, they found employers underpaid or otherwise skimped on wages worth $15 billion each year, while shoplifters stole $14.7 billion in merchandise each of those years.

Report author Amy Traub, associate director of policy and research with Demos, said retailers barely get a slap on the wrist for committing wage theft.

"A retailer that's stealing millions of dollars in wages from its employees often faces a lower risk of punishment - and really, a lighter penalty - than a shoplifter who nabs a pair of shoes off the shelves of the store,” Traub said.

The highest civil federal penalty for wage theft violators is repaying the stolen wages and an equal amount in damages. The penalty for repeat wage theft offenders isn't much higher - a maximum of 1,100 dollars.

The report noted that shoplifters who steal more that $2,500 in merchandise can face felony charges.

In 2016, a bill was introduced in Congress to tighten wage theft laws. The "Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act" would compensate victims with three times their stolen wages, increase civil fines for repeat offenders, and make it easier for employees to act on wage theft.

But, Traub said, the bill has stalled completely.

"This seems like it should really be a bipartisan issue,” she said. "We should all be united - especially a president who campaigned on doing the right thing for working Americans - around ensuring that employers don't steal money out of their employees' paychecks."

The report also said retailers spend far more money protecting their stores from theft than the Department of Labor spends enforcing wage laws. In 2015, retailer security spending was almost $9 billion - that's 39 times greater than the Department of Labor's entire Wage and Hour Division budget of about $227 million dollars.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - FL