Wage Theft Fact Sheet

“Wage theft happens so often that every time I go out on the job, I wonder if I am even going to get paid.” – Nephi Chynoweth, Austin construction worker

What is wage theft?

  • Wage theft occurs when employers fail to pay their workers their promised wages or don’t pay them at all.
  • It also includes workers paid less than the legal minimum wage or workers who are being cheated out of overtime pay.
  • Wage theft undercuts responsible businesses and hurts working families by forcing them to face unexpected hardships.

How big a problem is wage theft?

  • Wage theft is all around us. Millions of workers are robbed each year of a total estimated $35 billion, often forcing them to choose between paying rent or putting food on the table.
  • One in five construction workers in Texas has suffered wage theft. (1)
  • Nationally, 50% of contingent laborers have experienced wage theft. (2)

Who does wage theft affect?

  • Wage theft cheats Texas families out of hard-earned income and hurts responsible businesses who do pay their workers according to the law.
  • Responsible business can’t compete with companies who don’t pay their workers.
  • Half of Texas construction workers in a recent survey indicated that they were unable to meet their families’ basic needs. (3)
  • Taxpayers are forced to pick up the tab when unpaid workers fall back on public safety nets.
  • Employers who don’t pay their workers also don’t pay taxes, forcing cutbacks of vital services.

What does the Texas Wage Theft Act do?

  • The act empowers law enforcement across Texas to investigate wage theft under the Texas Penal Code section 31.04.
  • It closes a loophole in the law that allowed employers to get off the hook by partially paying their workers.
  • It clarifies that criminal penalties can apply in cases of non-payment of wages.
  • Criminal Theft of Service can help stop wage theft. Austin Police Department (APD) has adopted a policy of enforcing criminal theft of service in cases of wage theft.

How do we implement the law?

  • Effective enforcement of wage theft cases under Theft of Service requires collaboration between law enforcement and the court systems to prosecute cases.
  • Provide additional training for detectives and officers as well as court officials on the changes to the Texas Penal Code.
  • Partner with other Texas cities to help them implement the law.





(1) Amy Price et. al., Build a Better Texas: Construction Working Conditions in the Lone Star State, The University of Texas at Austin [Division of Diversity and Community Engagement] and Workers Defense Project, January 2013.

(2) Abel Valenzuela et. al., On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States, UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty, 2006.

(3) Price, Build a Better Texas.

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