How To Protect Yourself Against Wage Theft

Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work.  For many of us, as wage earners, our livelihoods depend (read: forced to work) on wages, especially when the dependence is immediate, meaning you live paycheck to paycheck.  We are essentially at the will of the employer, for better and for worse; enslaved by the wage system in which employers use to exploit the working class.  This is where the term ‘wage slave’ stems from.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from such exploitation?

One thing we must always remember — labor creates all wealth, and no boss should come between us and that wealth.   It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism, to organize ourselves, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but to carrying on production when the capitalist system is abolished.

Exploitation takes on many shapes and sizes, but today we’re going to talk about one of  the most complex and growing problems for workers as employers try all they can to squeeze as much surplus/free labor out of their workers.  That is the problem of “Wage Theft” — when employers illegally underpay their workers.  The top two methods of wage theft are unpaid overtime and employee misclassification.

Here are some simple, tried and true ways to protect yourself and your fellow workers:

Track Your Hours – The U.S. Department of Labor has created a smartphone app to help workers track their hours. If you don’t have a smart phone, it is still important to keep your own records.  Write down hours worked, break times, and any over time worked.

Keep A Work Journal – A workplace journal is always a good idea.  The more detailed your journal is, the better your chances will be when challenging your employers Unfair Labor Practices (ULP).  Keep your journal in your car and write down times, dates, names of potential witnesses, and any other detail you think would be helpful later, not while working. [ Download ] this printable template create by the Tulsa Industrial Workers of the World.

Fill Out Tax Forms – Being paid under the table sometimes can be really great, but it also means you are extremely vulnerable to being underpaid, or not paid at all.  Without proof of employment, it’s your word against theirs.  Following the above practices will help you in your case, but you should demand to be placed officially on the books.

Know Your Rights – Familiarize yourself with your rights and who you can call to file a complaint or ask for advice.  Download [ ]

Organize/Unionize – We stress that an organized workplace is the safest workplace.  Not only can you safeguard yourself from wage theft, but also demand other changes that make your workplace experience more tolerable.  A union is defined by two or more workers acting in concert with one another, and is protected by the government.  To act as a union does not require a large organization or external leadership, only organized solidarity among fellow workers.

If you would like to learn how to organize your place of work, get in touch with your local Industrial Workers of the World organizer.  The Richmond General Membership Branch of the IWW can be reached at or 804-496-1568.

 [ download ] this fact sheet and give it to your co-workers!

Abolish the Wage System!