Protecting workers' paychecks


Labor Day will be celebrated Monday, a national holiday first conceived of by labor unions, but now a day set aside to honor all working men and women of this country. In that spirit, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has worked hard to protect the wages of workers throughout the county.

The County Attorney’s Office has a prevailing wage officer who reviews contracts between Hennepin County and the companies it hires to construct new buildings or maintain the buildings through janitorial and other services. The officer occasionally finds that a company has underpaid its employees, often times inadvertently, and works with the company to provide those employees with the back pay they earned.

Other times, often working with state agencies, the county attorney’s office has filed criminal charges against companies that are flagrantly not paying the prevailing wage and putting the difference in their own pocket. In May, the county attorney’s office obtained guilty pleas from the two owners of an electrical company that failed to pay its workers the prevailing wage in a Normandale College construction project. And in April, prosecutors charged the owner of Honda Electric with short-changing workers nearly a quarter-million dollars on a job for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“On Labor Day we celebrate the working men and women who have made this country great,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. “We also believe in the idea of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay and we will continue, through our actions, to demonstrate that we will not tolerate wage theft.”

There are specific rules that employers must follow. For instance, a non-salaried employee must receive at least the minimum wage for each hour the employer requires work, including preparation time, opening and closing times, and required meetings; an employer may not deduct from an employee’s wages such things as breakages, cash shortages, tools and uniforms with some limited exceptions; any deductions from a paycheck must be authorized in writing by the employee; rest breaks are not required but an employee must be allowed time to use the nearest restroom within each four consecutive hours of work; an employee working eight or more consecutive hours must be allowed sufficient time to eat a meal.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has additional information on workers’ rights.

And all employees deserve a safe workplace. If safety or health hazards exist, contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.