Denver, CO

Denver may clamp down on wage theft

David Heitz

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Three-quarters of a billion dollars. That’s how much Colorado employers are stealing from their workers each year, according to the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

How do they do it? A range of methods. Making employees punch out but keep working is one of the more common offenses.

Denver wants to put a stop to it. The council will introduce an ordinance Monday to outlaw wage theft. It would need to be approved twice to become law.

“A few examples of how employers commit wage theft include, but are not limited to, simply not paying a worker, denying overtime pay, withholding tips, and misclassifying a worker as an independent contractor,” according to a city staff report.

Currently the District Attorney’s Office prosecutes wage theft cases, but there is a $2,000 loss minimum. Denver’s ordinance does not set a minimum for how much a victim must lose to wage theft to seek justice.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, minimum wage workers lose an average of $64 per week due to wage theft. Current law makes cases difficult to prosecute.

Employees v. contract workers

Denver’s law delineates between an employee and a contract worker this way. “For purposes of this section, a person is a ‘worker’ rather than an independent contractor when the person is economically dependent on the business to which he or she renders service, and a person is an ‘independent contractor’ when the person is, as a matter of economic fact, in business for himself or herself.

“In making this determination, the trier of fact shall consider the totality of the circumstances, and it shall be prima facie evidence that a person is a worker when: The employer exerts a degree of control over the person at work, such as setting working hours, controlling break and lunch times, or directing the person when and where to work; the person earns a set wage or salary or commission; the person works exclusively for the employer, and does not provide similar services to other employers; or the person does not bring a level of skill and knowledge unique to the job, but rather the employer provides on-the-job training for the work to be done.”

Attempts to stifle wage theft reports unlawful

The ordinance also makes it a crime when someone tries to stop a worker from filing a report of wage theft. “It shall be unlawful for any employer or agent of an employer to interfere with, restrain, deny, or attempt to deny, or assist another person in interfering with, restraining, denying or attempting to deny, the exercise of the right to report a crime under this section or assist in the enforcement or investigation of such crime,” the ordinance states.

The penalty for violating the wage theft ordinance is a fine of up to $999 and/or 300 days in jail. If enacted, the city will track the results of its wage theft law.

“The city attorney's office shall provide annual reports to the city council on the first of April outlining the number of cases prosecuted under this section and the disposition of each case for the previous calendar year beginning in January and ending in December, subject to any laws governing the release of criminal justice records,” according to a city staff report.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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