Labor Dept. finds thousands of Mass. workers are owed $10.4 million in unpaid wages

BOSTON — More than 8,700 Massachusetts workers are owed $10.4 million in unpaid wages, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, and the federal government has created a tool to help workers claim their money.

“We want the workers to get these wages. They have worked for it and they’ve earned it,” DOL spokesperson Karla Falcon said.

The DOL created a searchable database so Mass. workers can look to see if they have unpaid wages to claim.

“This is a top priority for us. We want to get the information out there and alert the public that this is a tool they can use,” Falcon said. “Often times workers are not aware of the labor laws, minimum wage and overtime, so they don’t realize they have wages owed to them.”

Falcon said the agency’s Wage and Hour Division investigates companies for violations related to overtime and minimum wage laws. The agency found companies across the country owe $161 million to more than 222,000 workers. When an investigation is over, Falcon said many workers have already moved on to other jobs. Much of that money sits unclaimed, she said.

“Sometimes there’s a lot of employees involved in these investigations and we don’t have the correct address for them, so they may not be aware of the fact that they may be involved in the investigation and there’s wages that are owed to them,” Falcon said.

Wage violations are found in various lines of work, including the food service, caregiving, and construction industries. Workers can go unpaid because they changed jobs, changed addresses or the employer doesn’t keep accurate records, Falcon said.

Cambridge employment attorney David Belfort said “wage theft”—depriving workers of earned income--is a big problem in Massachusetts.

“My view is that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that there are thousands and thousands of other employees who have not been paid properly. Wage theft is pervasive,” Belfort said.

The Wage & Hour Division can hold unclaimed money for three years. After three years, the money is transferred to the U.S. Treasury Dept.

If you have questions, you can call the Wage and Hour Division at 1-866-4-USWAGE.

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