For too many workers in this country, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work doesn’t ring true. This is especially true for workers in industries like fast food, retail, construction, and hospitality, such as hotels or motels. Too often they’re denied the wages to which they are legally entitled, which in many cases means not even receiving the federal minimum wage and overtime from their employers.
That’s where we come in. The Wage and Hour Division enforces some of our nation’s most comprehensive labor laws. When we find violations committed by employers, we often recover unpaid wages on behalf of employees – over $240 million owed to more than 270,000 workers nationwide in fiscal year 2014 alone.
One of our top priorities is to ensure that the money we collect is rightfully and expeditiously paid to the workers who earned it. In most cases, we’re successful in ensuring that all employees due back wages receive them. However, sometimes it’s a challenge, especially finding workers in sectors of the economy where work is temporary and seasonal like in agriculture, or where tenures may be short-lived like in fast food.
We’re taking a major step forward to improve our effectiveness in this area with a Web tool called Workers Owed Wages. Available in English and Spanish, it allows workers and their advocates to find out − through a user-friendly series of questions − if they are owed wages currently held by us as the result of one of our investigations.
This is how you can use it:
• Enter the name of your employer and the location where you worked.
• The system searches the database and lets you know whether your name appears on the list of workers owed wages by the employer selected.
• If your name appears, the system prompts you to provide contact information so we can provide a claim form for you to fill out and submit.
• Once the completed form is received and verified, you will receive a check. It’s that simple.
While we continue to collaborate with worker advocates and other stakeholders, such as foreign consulates, to help locate workers entitled to back wages, this new online system is a tremendous help in putting hard-earned wages into the hands of those who have earned them. Since WOW was launched earlier this year, we’ve already heard from many workers, successfully identifying nearly 250 people due back wages totaling $600,000. Our goal remains to ensure a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and WOW is already making significant strides in that direction.
Dr. David Weil is the administrator of the department’s Wage and Hour Division.