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California warehouse employees denied basic workplace rights

Warehouse workers in California and nationwide handle many essential functions for retail giants or technology companies, shipping ordered goods to customers, and loading trucks or shelves. Frequently earning minimum wage, many of them say that they are deprived of many basic rights supposedly guaranteed by state and federal employment laws, and some claim that they are even cheated out of receiving their full minimum wage benefits.

Sometimes supervisors or co-workers, acting at the behest of employers, stoop to such measures as falsifying time sheets to cheat them out of a portion of their earnings. While the minimum wage in California is $8 an hour, a rate at which it is already difficult to live on, understatements of hours worked can serve to conceal an employee's pay at an unlawfully lower rate.

Some warehouse workers may routinely receive pay as little as $3-$4 per hour when employers falsify timesheets, which is wage theft. Three California companies warehousing products for Wal-Mart were sued in October because of pay practices said to be rife with fraud. A follow-up investigation by state labor regulators resulted in moves to impose almost $1.4 million in fines for illicit wage practices.

Some employees are asked to sign blank time sheets, or are not paid for time spent cleaning the warehouse as opposed to unloading trucks. Additionally, they often face safety hazards and unbearable heat in the workplace. Employers try to intimidate employees, threatening them with termination if they complain about short pay or dangerous conditions.

Additionally, employers chip away at workers' already inadequate pay by charging them for the rental of shirts or uniforms with a company insignia, or sending them home early when things are slow. These indignities are terribly demeaning to employees. Although many may wonder how employers can get away with these practices, oftentimes, employees do not understand their own rights and fail to speak out about illegal practices for fear of losing their jobs.

Source: MSNBC, "Warehouse workers say abuses are systematic," Lilly Fowler, March 5, 2012