Washington Law Review

Article

Regulating Wage Theft

June 30, 2019 | 94 Wash. L. Rev. 759

Abstract: Wage theft costs workers billions of dollars each year. During a time when the federal government is rolling back workers’ rights, it is essential to consider how state and local laws can address the problem. As this Article explains, the pernicious practice of wage theft seemingly continues unabated, despite a recent wave of state and local laws to curtail it. This Article provides the first comprehensive analysis of state and local anti-wage theft laws. Through a compilation of 141 state and local anti-wage theft laws enacted over the past decade, this Article offers an original typology of the most common anti-wage theft regulatory strategies. An evaluation of these laws shows that they are unlikely to meaningfully reduce wage theft. Specifically, the typology reveals that many of the most popular anti-wage theft strategies involve authorizing worker complaints, creating or enhancing penalties, or mandating employers to disclose information to workers about their wage-related rights. Lessons learned about these conventional regulatory strategies from other contexts raise serious questions about whether these state and local laws can be successful. Rather than concede defeat, this Article contends that there are useful insights to be drawn from the typology and analysis. It concludes by recognizing promising regulatory innovations, identifying new collaborative approaches to enhance agency enforcement, and looking beyond regulation to nongovernmental strategies.

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