June 02, 2017

In a given week, the 59-year-old grandfather from Lancaster County might work 60 hours with one client, six hours with another then be on-call for emergencies that might arise for two others. 

But his employer, Public Partnerships LLC, still owes him and some of his more than 10,000 colleagues money for unpaid overtime, according to a proposed class action lawsuit filed last month in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District. 

Headlines about these kinds of “wage theft” lawsuits show up relatively frequently throughout the country. Utz Quality Foods, PNC Bank and Friendly’s are among the many companies to face such allegations, according to lawsuits filed over the past several years. 

President Donald Trump has broadly signaled throughout his first few months in office that he hopes to cut back regulations that he feels limit businesses’ ability to operate and turn a profit. Some employment law attorneys, however, are still unsure whether or to what extent the proposed cuts would affect employees’ ability to seek compensation for alleged labor law violations. 

“I haven’t seen changes to the regulations yet,” said Christine Webber, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, a Washington, D.C.-based firm representing Talarico. “What I wonder is if the new Department of Labor under the new administration will be as active in enforcing the rules that are already on the books.”

Employee advocates have long called for crackdowns on companies that don’t pay their people for hours worked. 

The term “wage theft” informally refers to allegations of unpaid overtime, forced off-the-clock work and minimum-wage violations that go against state or federal labor laws. Webber has seen low-wage workers, especially in the home care and restaurant industries, most frequently fall victim to these types of actions, but the issue can touch all sectors of the economy. 

“It’s pretty persistent as a problem,” Webber said. “I think that it’s unfortunate that employers will see trimming their overtime expense, or even in some cases their minimum wage expenses, as a way to cut corners.”

While Trump might not change the laws, King and Webber both suspect the president and his Department of Labor, headed by attorney R. Alexander Acosta, are unlikely to pursue wage-law violators as aggressively as past administrations. 

If that prediction proves true, victims may continue turning to private litigation. 

“To the extent that the Department of Labor doesn’t pursue cases, that’s more that can come to us,” Webber said. 

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