Dept. of Labor Fails to Protect Workers: “We have a crisis in wage theft” (2024)

Is your boss ripping you off by refusing to pay you overtime? Forcing you to work off the clock? Not letting you take meal or rest breaks? If so, you might want to think twice about calling up the U.S. Department of Labor to lodge a complaint. According to a recent GAO report, it will likely be months before you get a response. And, in the end, after unending delays, they might just end up telling you to hire a lawyer and bring a lawsuit instead.

On March 25, 2009, the U.S. General Accountability Office issued a 35-page report, entitled “Wage and Hour Division’s Complaint Intake and Investigative Processes Leave Low Wage Workers Vulnerable to Wage Theft” , that chronicles the GAO’s undercover investigation of the Labor Departments Wage and Hour Division (WHD) . The GAO report found that 9 of the 10 complaints lodged by its undercover agents with the WHD were mishandled and:

. . . that the Department of Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn. . . . Unfortunately, far too often the result is unscrupulous employers taking advantage of our country’s low wage workers.

The report also found that the WHD mishandled worker complaints by ignoring them, waiting months to process them, lying about progress, closing them and in some cases, simply dropping them. One undercover GAO agent posing as an aggrieved worker was told to hire an attorney and file a private lawsuit instead. In another case involving over 50 minors being used for illegal child labor, the GAO found that the WHD waited over a year after the complaint had been received before beginning an investigation.

Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, a low-wage earner advocacy group, told the New York Times “We have a crisis in wage theft, and the Department of Labor has not been aggressive enough in recent years. . . The new secretary of labor says she’s the new sheriff in town, but I’m concerned she’s facing the wild, wild West of wage theft.” Representative George Miller (D-Cal.), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee and the impetus behind the GAO report, put it even more pointedly, telling the New York Times: “It’s clear that under the existing system, employers feel they can steal workers’ wages with impunity, and that has to change.”

The new U.S. Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, certainly has her work cut out for her considering the mess left behind by her Bush administration predecessor, Elaine Chao. Fortunately, Solis’s office wasted no time in responding to the critical GAO report, issuing a press release announcing the hire of 250 new field office investigators, a 33% staff increase . Solis told the New York Times that she took the GAO report’s findings seriously and that the staff increase would “reinvigorate the work of this important agency” .

The next time you hear someone complain that there are too many wage and hour lawsuits, be sure to send them a copy of the GAO’s report. It might open their eyes.

If you or someone you know is being denied overtime payments or meal or rest breaks, forced to work off the clock or below the minimum wage rate, or suffering other wage and hour violations, contact a labor lawyer immediately.


  1. MinisterL.Denise on April 19, 2022 at 7:17 pm

    Any person should be paid if company policy mandates they stay home with any covid symptoms or recent exposures. So cal gas company demands the mandate yet put the employees down in fear for having to stay off.
    Its a dang if u do and put down if you dont rotten way to treat employees.

    • Eugene Lee on April 19, 2022 at 10:29 pm

      Agreed. If that’s happening, So Cal Gas company should be held accountable.

  2. james munoz napoles on January 26, 2022 at 2:37 am

    Labor Commissioner’s office Santa Ana- wage claim has now reached over 2 years and had a conference that was not even a real conference. These deputies and their managers have not even read/ or looked at any of my paper work to show my issue or any of my time card punches vs. the owner edited time card sheets for a total of 3 years on a weekly bases of stealing from myself and other employees. Also spoke with owner and manager and have all that as well. now still no hearing , which I was told i had to prove since I am the party that wants to go ahead to a hearing. heck the deputy that did the conference told me to not send her any of that paperwork. Oh and by the way did I also say that my forms 55, they have no idea about yet I mailed when I filed my claim then I emailed them again and faxed them and emailed them to manager who told me to wait for my conference but deputy did not allow me to send. Why would any human being not care enough to look at this information. this is my life and my ruined credit and my getting ready to lose my home cause i cant keep up with 3 years of severe wage loss and 2 1/2 years of a CA Labor office who refuses to do there job. Is there NO AGENCY that audits these agencies is there any one to complain to- depressing, most of us are basic workers and cannot afford an attorney.

    • Eugene Lee on April 19, 2022 at 10:32 pm

      I’m really sorry to hear that you’re going through this. Just so you know, many lawyers, myself included, work on a contingency fee basis – meaning you don’t pay a penny unless and until your lawyer wins a recovery for you on your wage claim. This means legal representation becomes affordable for just about every deserving employee. There is really no downside to this arrangement.

  3. Mo on July 18, 2021 at 8:54 pm

    I worked over 100 hours in 2 weeks time. After my time card was processed my hours dropped to 94 hours. I went back to look at my timesheet for each days I worked OT, and did not take a lunch, a 30 minute break was deducted from my shift, this happened on multiple days without my knowledge a 30 minute lunch was added to my timecard. My timecard should not have 30 minute deductions on multiple days when I did not even take the meal break.

    • Melissa on April 16, 2022 at 10:04 pm

      Mo is that you ? It’s missy and you need to get ahold of me

    • Eugene Lee on April 19, 2022 at 10:34 pm

      That’s a violation of the labor code. You should consider filing a labor board claim.

  4. Stephen on March 11, 2020 at 10:49 am

    I worked as a manager for a company that I am no longer with. The company is not paying employees for their meal break violations in which they are not receiving their meal breaks in the required time and are not receiving that break violation time. How can I notify someone about this issue to ensure that it is handled properly?

    • Eugene Lee on April 19, 2022 at 10:35 pm

      You can always consider filing a labor board claim. We’re happy to help out with that. Our number is 213-992-3299.

      • Jorge emilio reyes porras on October 25, 2023 at 9:23 am

        Me llegó una carta wh 60 en febrero 12 2022 para enviar mis documentos para recibir mi indemnización y me dicen que mi caso ya se va a cerrar que no haga nada ID del caso 1746067
        Yo ya envié los documentos 2 veces ala dirección 90 7th st suite 4-390 San Francisco California 94103 y Carolina me dice que ya no haga nada que mi caso ya se va cerrar yo necesito que mantenga abierto

        • Eugene Lee on December 14, 2023 at 7:56 pm

          Lamento mucho oír eso. Desafortunadamente, escucho sobre situaciones como ésta todo el tiempo. ¿Por casualidad tuvo un abogado que lo ayudó con su reclamo? Si es así, es posible que tenga una demanda por negligencia contra su abogado.

  5. M Wiggins on July 14, 2019 at 11:31 am

    I have been working 56 hours on average each week since March 24 of this year. Our hourly rate was increased and I have been getting paid incorrectly since. I inquired about my pay rate and w as told by our supervisor and manager that I was correct and it will be corrected. It has yet to be and I was threatened by my manager that if I filed a compliant with the Labor Commission that I will be fired to be exact, “that we will find a away to get rid of you!” I need legal advocacy as well as be compensated correctly. Please help per I can’t lose this job. My family and I are already living in and out of hotels. If they let me go, we will be homeless. If there is any thing you or any one else can do, please let me know as soon as possible.

  6. Brenna on April 9, 2019 at 11:49 am

    Hello, I need some help. I was working for 24 Hour Fitness for a short period of time, I got hired on Jan 1 of 2019 and my final day of employment was March 14th 2019. I have yet to receive my final paycheck and it’s affected me greatly. I’ve been unable to supply groceries for myself, or pay my bills. They informed me they would mail it to me and confirmed my home address, but this was over 2 weeks ago and I preferred to pick it up like you normally would. I’ve tried contacting them again about it and I get no response and no calls back. Is this legal?

    • Kirstin Pierce on January 31, 2020 at 12:51 pm

      If you don’t mind me asking, what was the name of this gym? I worked at a 24 hour gym and have no received my last check either and it has been 2 months.

  7. Ramiro Ramirez on March 7, 2019 at 11:31 am

    I was put on salary in 2014 and agreed that I would accumulate hours worked after 8 hours worked for me to take when ever I wanted, at a regular hour pay not as over time, in the sane year we had a project that we worked over time for six months, accumulating over 500 hours, in 2015 noticing it was not worth it for me, as I could not take all the time at once, I asked to be put back on hourly, so I would get paid for hours worked, but was denied, in 2016 we started another project where we stared working over time in went for 15 months where I accumulated over 1000 hours, in 2018, I was send to a HR class and learned that I had been mis-clasified as exempt, I was given the title of manager but my duties include welding, machining, assembly and some times repairing equipment

  8. Pam S on December 31, 2018 at 9:41 am

    I am in San Bernardino County. My boss hired me on a salary of $2200 per month, increased after 3 months to $2400 per month. Not specified if exempt or non-exempt. I was told I would be provided snacks and ingredients to make lunches, and $200 per month toward medical after 3 months, and $100,000 life insurance. I was now told I would not get a pay increase until I achieved my Real Estate License.
    The snacks and meals have been cut off, no medical stipend, no life insurance. As well as being in the office form 9am – 5pm Mon-Fri, I am on call 24/7, I have had to supply my own computer laptop and I need to use my own phone without compensation.
    Questions: Is my salary level legal? Should I have had to provide my own laptop? Should I have to use my own cell phone without compensation?

  9. Angel anguiano on October 8, 2018 at 7:33 am

    How can I make appointment. the company that work at is cheating us with the hours and making us work overtime for free

    • Eugene Lee on October 8, 2018 at 7:36 am

      Hi Angel, please give us a call at (213) 992-3299, we’d be happy to talk with you.

  10. Sam on August 11, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    I’m in sales position and with my current employer for 5 years now. I have a base pay ( hourly wage) + commission’s ( amount varies per sale amount ) + residuals once a month & bonuses if you qualify. There have been so many changes in the last year and employees laid off. The company I work for is owned by a partnership of 2 owners , one of them local , the other resides in a different state. I had only known and dealt with the local owner from the time I was hired through my almost 4th year mark. This last year ( when lots of changes occurred) I was told by the out of state owner ( whom now says he’s stepping in to manage inside sales department) that he thinks I make too much hourly and his partner gave me to many raises and to soon. Over the last year I’ve heard this from him now a total of 3 times, I suggested he take this up with his partner instead of me. These last four months ( April, May, June, July ) I’ve not been paid my residuals due to not having at least 4 new sales each month to earn it. I’ve been in this industry 9 years and only a few times over the length of my 9+ years in sales ( prior to the last four months ) have I ever not not hit my minimum deal count. My residual is made up of $5.00 – $10.00 a sale on each account Ive on boarded to the company ( and still active accounts) over the length of my employment. My residuals are income already earned and have built up over the last 5 years. My residuals are up to $2,000.00 a month currently but I’m not receiving that money. Is it illegal for my employer to keep my money?

    • Eugene Lee on August 12, 2018 at 9:59 pm

      I think the answer really depends on what the exact agreement is between you and your employer about the residuals. But it sounds like your employer is breaching the agreement as to your residuals. Hopefully the agreement is in writing and you can obtain a copy for review – in that case, the language of the agreement will determine who is in the right. If there is no writing, then it becomes a question of what the exact oral agreement was as to the residuals and how can you prove it. In the end, I’d strongly suggest you contact an attorney to discuss your situation, as contract law can be tricky.

  11. Tia Cunningham on July 18, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    What if you are non-exempt employee, you are allowed to work 1 hour of overtime, but you continue working 2 hours more only because your workload is extremely heavy. But, on your time card you put 9 hours instead of 11 hours. (Note: Your manager sees you working past 9 hours. In fact, the manager leaves work at the same time you do.) You sign your time card and employer signs your time card, stating that you worked 9 hour. Can an employee be terminated for falsifying their time card? (There are a lot of employees who secretly admit to doing this even after they had their status changed from exempt to non-exempt.)

  12. DesperatelySeekingLivableWages on May 3, 2018 at 7:49 pm

    I have many questions and hope you can help with all. Thank you.
    ● Can a temp agency reduce pay, after already being hired and employed? Regardless of shift changing?
    ● Shouldnt the client company directly hire the employee from the agency, after a certain amount of time?
    ● Are raises in pay mandatory, or lacking any raises in pay, after many years of working with the agency and same client company.
    In this immediate situation, is it legal to keep the long-serviced worker at the basic minimum level? Even after California minimum wage goes higher, the long-serviced worker is making the exact same as a new hire.
    ● Shouldnt certifications like forklift and OSHA require higher pay than new hires?
    Thanks again.

  13. Need help on April 17, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    I get no brakes except for a one hour lunch break. I work in the medical field and our lunches are blocked out for an hour on the schedule, but the doctor will work through our lunch and lag than tell us to be back in 20-30 min for the next patient. Is this illegal ? I need help

    • Eugene Lee on April 18, 2018 at 9:03 pm

      Yes, very illegal (assuming you are a non-exempt employee). Please give us a call at (213) 992-3299 and we’ll help you get the process started. Rest breaks cannot be waived, nor can they be combined with your lunch break into a “super” 1-hour long break. The breaks must be taken at separate times. Breaks must also be uninterrupted and free of duty.

  14. Robin L Mendez on March 24, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    What should one do if at time of being hired I was salary one one job told me, but I am supposed to step in to other departments as necessary even if that makes me working 16-20 hours in a day and never being compensated and was told that was what I signed up for in my job duties. As well as never bering compensated for mileage for facility assessments when my manager is and was aware that I was using my own car. And of course as salaried employee I hardly ever got to take a lunch or breaks. What does anyone recommend.

    • Eugene Lee on April 18, 2018 at 9:06 pm

      Exempt employees do not enjoy the protections of most provisions of the labor code. However, the question that immediately comes to my mind is: were you *misclassified* as an exempt employee. Most supposedly exempt salaried employees I come across are actually misclassified and should actually be non-exempt employees. Please consider contacting a labor lawyer to discuss your particular situation.

  15. Aljeratso on June 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm

     Where can caregivers file their complaints In Los Angeles for not receiving their salaries on time from the home care agencies they work with? There are home care agencies that issue checks that bounce. These are done repeatedly by these heartless home care agencies but most caregivers don’t even complain. The caregivers had already done their services for the whole month and only frustrated to find that their checks issued to them cannot be encashed because they don’t have any deposit at all. And I don’t understand why banks tolerate this kind of transaction? When asked, home care agency owners reason out that they couldn’t collect any payments from clients. Is this a valid reason?

    • Eugene Lee on April 18, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      No it’s not a valid reason because, as far as you’re concerned, if you work an hour, you must be paid for that hour, period. If that’s not happening, you should consider filing a labor board complaint.

  16. sean g on December 28, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    what should i do if my manager tells i need to give my life to the company? What should i do if my manager tells me i need to travel out of state to train other although its not part of my hiring package and if i have a phobia of flying

    • Eugene Lee on April 18, 2018 at 9:08 pm

      If you have a diagnosed phobia of flying, then get a doctor’s note that restricts you from flying, and submit that to your employer. If the employer fails to accommodate your work restriction, you may have a claim for disability discrimination. You would do well to discuss your situation with a labor lawyer.

  17. Positive California on October 27, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    California employees must make themselves aware of what is going on around them for their own protection. In a funky economy, a lot of employers have really been pushing the envelope lately.

  18. Ann Le on July 16, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    In addition to penalizing crooked employers, employees should have the opportunity to be strongly educated about labor laws in order to take a stand for themselves. Many corrupt employers get away with wage theft because employees aren’t aware of it and let it happen. Perhaps the Dept. of Labor should start enforcing all employers to provide Labor Law information programs/seminars within companies for all employees…? SOMEthing must be done…

  19. lucas law firm on May 25, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    I agree with Crime Agency.


  20. Victim Worker on April 13, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Talking about it is easy, but wait until you see DLSE and US Labor Dept to take action to enforce labor laws in order to protect worker is different thing. Watch for their action than word.

  21. Crime Agency on April 11, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Any person should be paid for the
    overtime he works for
    and not try to cheat him from paying him
    i agree and legal action has to be taken by the labor department

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