Wage Theft Ordinances: Dandelions in the Spring
“Wage theft” ordinances have been popping up in Florida like dandelions in the spring. At first glance, these ordinances look like a lovely spring flower providing employees an administrative and/or legal avenue to recover unlawfully withheld wages. However, these ordinances are really weeds causing headaches not only to employers but also to employees who are not prepared to navigate the unique procedures for making such claims. A growing list of municipalities, including Miami-Dade County, Broward County, City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, and Hillsborough County, have all implemented some variety of a wage theft ordinance, and there is a lack of uniformity among procedures and rules for bringing claims pursuant to these ordinances. Companies operating in one or more of these areas should be aware of the additional regulations that may apply to their businesses, some of which call for triple damages and attorneys’ fees. This task can be quite daunting for any company that operates statewide or in two or more of the participating municipalities. Now, in addition to defending wage claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Florida Minimum Wage Act, Florida Statute Section 448.08, and common law unjust enrichment claims, companies will also be defending claims brought pursuant to these ordinances and sometimes will be defending such claims in two different forums, possibly at the same time.
Knowledge of these ordinances can serve as legal Roundup to help employers defeat attempts by employees to obtain damages. This is best evidenced by Green v. Stericyle, Inc., No. 1:16-CV-24206-CMA (S.D. Fla. Dec. 15, 2016), a case in which an employee brought a wage theft claim that was dismissed by the court because the employee failed to comply with the prescribed procedure. The ordinance did not grant an initial private right of action, but rather provided an exclusive administrative procedure to bring the claim to the county. The employee failed to follow the administrative procedure, thereby compelling the court to dismiss the case. As this case illustrates, although emergence of wage theft ordinances causes problems for employers, the onus remains with the employee to navigate a municipal code to bring a proper claim. Failure to do so could be fatal to the claim.