The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment offices at 251 E. 12th Ave. in Denver. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
Denver’s City Attorney’s Office will soon start cracking down on employers who don’t pay their workers what they are owed.
A new city ordinance, unanimously approved by Denver City Council on Monday, makes it a crime to “knowingly refuse to pay a wage or compensation to a worker or falsely deny the amount of a wage owed, the validity thereof, or that the same is due.”
“Denver is taking the stance that employers can no longer take advantage of loopholes in our system to exploit our most vulnerable workers,” Denver Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said in a written statement. “If you work in our city, you will be paid fairly for that work. And if you aren’t, there is now a better tool for you to get help. It’s a big step in the right direction.”
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The City Attorney’s Office will establish a Wage Theft Unit within its office to prosecute cases that impact the average worker, where the amount of lost wages is less than $2,000 per violation, according to a city press release. The new unit will also allow the city attorney’s office to seek restitution on a victim’s behalf, which will allow workers to seek monetary damages without having to pay for a private attorney.
Currently, the Denver district attorney’s office has authority to criminally prosecute wage theft under state law. However, that office is currently only reviewing cases that involve over $2,000 in lost wages, according to the press release.
The average minimum wage worker loses approximately $3,300 per year due to wage theft, according to a survey conducted by the Economic Policy Institute. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment received 550 reports of wage theft in Denver in 2020, according to a city press release, but only 340 were claims of less than $2,000 and therefore were not criminally prosecuted.
People most impacted by wage theft are agricultural workers, day laborers, caregivers, construction workers, janitorial workers, restaurant workers and delivery workers, according to the press release. In all these groups, immigrants, refugees and people of color are disproportionately impacted. Examples of wage theft include being paid less than minimum wage per hour, bounced paychecks, having unauthorized deductions and not being paid promised vacation or overtime pay.
“We want to stand in the gap for these workers, especially during a time when so many people and families are struggling financially,” said Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson. “This important code change and the creation of a special unit dedicated to these cases mean that lower wage earners who are victims of wage theft now have an additional, more effective way to seek justice.”
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