If your employer owes you up to $2k, this Denver wage theft law could help you get paid

The new law would apply for cases involving claims of less than $2,000. Employers found in violation of the law could face a fine of up to $999 or 300 days in jail or both.
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A news conference announcing that SkyHouse Denver workers reached a settlement about wage law violations., Dec. 20, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Workers not getting the money they're owed will have a new resource in Denver.

City Council on Monday unanimously approved a wage theft bill seeking to help employees who are victims of wage theft.

Wage theft is when an employer doesn't pay someone the money they're legally owed. It's illegal under state law and is prosecuted locally by the Denver District Attorney's Office, but only for claims that are $2,000 or more. The bill passed by the council creates a local criminal law for wage theft for cases involving less than $2,000 per offense.

The bill was sponsored by Councilmember Amanda Sawyer and proposed by the City Attorney's Office, which will establish a Wage Theft Unit to prosecute such cases. Sawyer said stakeholders like local contractors and unions were involved in crafting the bill.

City officials have framed the law as a way to help protect the most vulnerable workers in Denver. People who have low-paying jobs or are undocumented are unlikely to pursue wage theft claims, according to a study by the Colorado Fiscal Institute. It found workers of color are more likely to work in industries at higher risk for wage theft. People who work in agriculture, construction, janitorial, food service or have temporary or day-to-day jobs are among the people most likely to be impacted by wage theft, according to a release from the city about the proposed law.

"We know that wage theft happens in Denver, but we don't currently have any sort of ordinance that gives us the opportunity to address it," Sawyer said before Monday's meeting. "It's a big deal because this is the first time workers are really hearing from their government, 'Hey, we know this is a problem for you, and we are actively doing something about it.'"

Data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment shows the agency got 550 reports of wage theft in Denver in 2020, but most of these claims -- 340 -- totaled less than $2,000 and were not prosecuted, the city's release states.

Employers found in violation of the law could face a fine of up to $999 or 300 days in jail or both. However, Assistant City Attorney Anshul Bagga said last month during a committee meeting that the law's primary goal is to get workers the wages they're owed through restitution.

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