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Shoplifters Face Harsher Penalties Than Employers Stealing Wages

Retailers stole about $15 billion from their employees each year between 2013 and 2015, according to a new report. (torbakhopper/Flickr)
Retailers stole about $15 billion from their employees each year between 2013 and 2015, according to a new report. (torbakhopper/Flickr)
June 19, 2017

SEATTLE – Retail employers are stealing as much from their employees as shoplifters are stealing from their stores, according to a new report. The progressive policy organization Demos compared minimum-wage theft data from the Economic Policy Institute and shoplifting data from the Global Retail Theft Barometer.

Between 2013 and 2015, employers underpaid or otherwise skimped on wages to the tune of $15 billion each year. Shoplifters stole $14.7 billion in merchandise each of those years.

Amy Traub, the associate director of policy and research and author of the report, says retailers 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," she explains.

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

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

Last year, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington introduced legislation to tighten wage-theft laws. Called the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act, the bill would compensate wage victims with three times their stolen wages, increase civil fines for repeat offenders and make it easier for employees to act on wage theft.

However, Traub notes this effort has stalled completely in Congress.

"This seems like it really should be a bipartisan issue," she says. "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 notes retailers spend far more money protecting their stores from stealing than the Department of Labor spends enforcing wage laws. In 2015, retailer security spending, about $8.9 billion, was 39 times greater than the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour division's entire budget, about $227 million.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA