Minnesota is six months into a new era of wage theft enforcement. The state recently adopted a law that makes it a felony for employers who cheat workers out of pay. And one expert said it’s not surprising to see these new laws, but challenges still remain. 

Minnesota’s wage-theft law coincided with similar actions taken in Colorado and New Jersey. Alan Benson is a professor specializing in labor at the University of Minnesota. He said efforts to assist low-wage workers are coming in a variety of ways.

“The states have taken it onto themselves to either raise their own state minimum wages, or to improve enforcement of their existing wage laws, or to expand the scope of employees who are covered by that law,” Benson said.

He said much of what’s driving action at the state level is the fact that the federal minimum wage has been flat for a decade. 

Benson said there’s also been a lot of reported violations of overtime pay regulations. But even with states taking action, he said making employees aware of such laws is still a challenge – which ultimately reduces their impact.

Minnesota’s new law does expand requirement notifications. But Benson said many employers don’t fully grasp their obligation to ensure workers know about the threat of wage theft.

“If they fail to pay $50 in overtime, then for many workers, unfortunately, it would be business as usual,” he said. “And oftentimes, they don’t know their rights.”

In Minnesota, wage theft now is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. An estimated 39,000 Minnesotans annually are victims of wage theft in some form.

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