As the summer hiring season heats up, here's something to consider: every year as many as 5,000 people in Connecticut file complaints claiming they did not get paid wages they earned.
For several months, 19-year-old Adrian Muniz of Meriden got paid to dress up in character costumes. He said, "It was going good for a while. I usually worked for kids parties."
Muniz explains most gigs earned him $50 for an hour's work, until he says his employer stopped paying, “The last few parties I had done, there had always been a payment issue. So after a while I finally became fed up with it."
Muniz filed a complaint with the Connecticut Department of Labor. He shared with NBC Connecticut Troublshooters what he said are screen shots of texts with his employer about the issue. The messages say things including "I owe you 150,” and “I'll put a check in the mail today.”
Gary Pechie, the director of the Department of Labor's Workplace Standards and Wages division, says jobs generating the most complaints include construction, home health, and restaurant work.
Annually, the division has helped roughly 1,500 employees recover more than $2.5 million in unpaid wages due, on average, for the past four years that data has been tracked. Pechie explained, "The low wage industries are where the abuse and exploitation is just rampant because they feel they can take advantage of these people.”
The Department of Labor says it often catches bad actors by conducting sweeps once a month, acting on tips. The sweeps can result in “stop work” notices posted, potential criminal charges against the businesses, along with them owing workers double what they were supposed to pay.
Still Pechie said, ”It's nothing for a business for us to catch them, pay a very hefty civil penalty I mean talking thousands of dollars. And next month we'll run into them on another job site. I mean, we do have repeat offenders. There's a business model out there saying, let's not put anybody on the books."
It's why James Bhandary-Alexander, a New Haven legal aid attorney, advocates making employers pay triple what they owe, and taking away business licenses if companies do not make good on settlements.
“One of the problems that we face as an office is the same problem faced all over the country of actually collecting on these wage judgements”, Bhandary-Alexander said.
Adrian Muniz hopes the state can get him what he says he's owed. We asked Muniz' former employer about all this. Over the phone she told us she disputes his claims, saying he only helped on a volunteer basis and covered his expenses. The next day however, the state said she agreed to pay Muniz.
If you feel you're owed wages you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor.
One other important point: you can file a complaint even if you are an undocumented worker.