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Unfair pay complaints from U.S. workers soar to record numbers

Too many workers in San Diego and other cities around the country are battling over the price of a fair day's work, recent statistics reveal.

An increasing number of wage disputes accuse employers in the U.S. of cheating workers out of the pay they are legally entitled to. Legal experts and observers think wage and hour complaints have risen due to national economic hardships, renewed efforts to enforce workplace laws, and employer misunderstandings of wage and hour laws or intentional neglect. In addition to filed complaints, thousands of other workers might not even realize that they too could be victims of pay violations and wage theft.

According to reports, the number of U.S. wage and hour-based lawsuits filed this year has already surpassed the total number of disputes filed in 2011. This means that more than 7,000 complaints have already been filed this year. Pay disputes today are three and a half times greater than they were 10 years ago.

Low-wage workers are often the least aware of their employment rights. Some employees hesitate to take legal action when they know that employers are violating their rights out of fear of losing jobs that are hard to get and keep in sluggish economic times.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently expanded its involvement to help disadvantaged workers and warn employers that unfair pay practices will not be tolerated. The government recovered more than $220 million last year for more than 275,000 underpaid workers in California and throughout the entire U.S.

Employment law attorneys say pay disputes are on the rise partly because wage and hour laws are unclear and outdated. Employers misunderstand or abuse worker classifications. Those innocent or deliberate mistakes shortchange workers, who are fighting back as they should be in order to receive the pay they legally deserve.

Some major American employers have recently been accused of workplace and wage violations, including Wal-Mart. The giant discount retailer recently settled a complaint representing more than 4,500 workers who claimed they were cheated out of overtime pay. The $5 million settlement followed a $352 million payout in 2008, when Wal-Mart was accused of depriving employees of adequate work breaks.

Source: MSNBC, "Growing number of workers complain about being shortchanged," Eve Tahmincioglu, July 26, 2012