Cheating Workers Out of Wages Is Easier Than Ever

Jara Neal Willis, a nurse at a hospital in Texas, usually clocked in a few minutes before the start of her shift and stayed late whenever her patients needed help. Her lunch breaks were often cut short by requests from doctors, patients or their families.

Willis and her colleagues, however, claimed they were not paid for those extra few minutes worked before and after their shifts. Or for working during lunch breaks.

It wasn’t because of mischievous gremlins falsifying their time cards in a backroom, but settings in the software the hospital used to track comings and goings. Two features alone, “rounding” and “automatic break deductions,” could result in the loss of up to 44 minutes a day — or US$1,382 a year at the federal minimum wage.

Timekeeping software was the focus of a study I co-authored last year documenting how it could be used to facilitate wage theft. 

But it left a lingering question: Did companies actually use these features to shortchange workers? Based on my review of hundreds of lawsuits like Willis’, the answer is yes — and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Wage Theft Gets a Tech Upgrade

“Wage theft” is a shorthand term that refers to situations in which someone isn’t paid for the work. In its simplest form, it might consist of a manager instructing employees to work off the clock. Or a company refusing to pay for overtime hours. 

report from the Economic Policy Institute estimated that employees lose $15 billion to wage theft every year, more than all of the property crime in the United States put together. That report, however, focused on workers being paid less than the federal or state minimum wage. Our 2017 study, which was based on promotional materialsemployer policies and YouTube videos, suggested that companies can now use software to avoid paying all sorts of hourly workers.

Hundreds and Hundreds

When an employee clocks in for the day — using  — that employee’s time log becomes a form of data. 

I wanted to know if there was…

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