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Pulling back the curtains on wage-theft enforcement in MN

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Thursday, March 28, 2024   

A mix of policy updates and staffing boosts has helped to put wage theft enforcement on the radar in Minnesota, and officials leading the efforts are prioritizing coordination so potential cases do not fall through the cracks.

Since Minnesota adopted a wage theft law in 2019, it has seen a handful of high profile examples of state and local officials going after companies accused of shortchanging workers.

John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, feels Minnesota is starting to come around to the idea such matters should not just be resolved through civil penalties. He said there are some keys to taking the next step in seeing a wave of additional cases.

"It's really doing the investigations," Choi explained. "Then also making sure that we get referrals from other agencies that might be doing that civil enforcement."

Choi's office has hired a wage theft investigator, though stakeholders acknowledged not all county prosecutors and sheriff's departments around the state have such resources.

Choi co-chairs the Labor Advisory Council in the Twin Cities, which leads discussions with key partners and labor leaders about working more closely on the issue, including knowing when it is appropriate to pursue a criminal investigation.

Minnesota's Attorney General has been aggressive in combating wage theft but is only allowed to file civil lawsuits. The decision on criminal charges is up to county prosecutors. Choi emphasized the good news is the Attorney General can lend support to under-resourced offices. He suggested community members can spur more interest, too.

"I also think, just locally around the state, a lot of local sheriffs would be interested in undertaking some of these investigations once they start hearing from the public," Choi noted.

Under Minnesota's wage theft law, an employer can now be charged with a felony. Choi added there are other legal tools, such as charges sought by the revenue department, and said it is a matter of ensuring agencies are not working in silos.

The Labor Advisory Council said wage theft is rampant among nonunion construction activity. It estimates in the Twin Cities, employers steal more than $3 million in wages each year.


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