New Assemblywoman Gonzalez Bill Sends Employers to Jail Who Steal Workers’ Wages

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO – (Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021) – Today, California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) introduced new legislation, Assembly Bill 1003, to make sure the consequences for stealing employees’ wages are as serious as the crime itself. The bill would make an employer’s intentional theft of wages punishable as grand theft when collectively greater than $950.

"For too long, corporations have gotten away with stealing from their employees and faced nothing more than a slap on the wrist. When the so-called consequences companies face are less severe than the crime itself, it's no wonder that committing wage theft is treated as a simple business decision to boost an employer's bottom line," Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. "The system isn't working if we can't deter the most egregious actors from taking advantage of their own workers. It's time we treated stealing someone's hard-earned wages at least as seriously as other forms of theft."

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that wage theft costs workers across the country up to $15 billion each year in minimum wage violations alone, compared to $12.7 billion losses per year from robberies, burglaries, larcenies and auto theft combined. Wage theft crimes include paying workers less than the minimum wage, not paying workers overtime, not allowing workers to take meal and rest breaks, requiring work off the clock, or stealing workers' tips. Each year, more than 30,000 workers in California file wage theft claims, though the number of all workers who are owed unpaid wages is likely greater.

Even when employees have collectively millions of dollars stolen from their paychecks, employers often only face mild civil penalties for wage theft under federal law. Existing wage theft penalties for wealthy corporations like Amazon, Walmart, and Wells Fargo often cost these companies less than actually paying their workers, making such mild consequences an ineffective deterrent that enables repeat offenses. Criminal penalties are very rare, yet in any state in the country, if a person steals more than $2,500 in merchandise from a business, they may face felony charges.

AB 1003 will increase criminal penalties for wage theft in California in order to hold violators accountable for stealing their workers’ hard-earned wages.

For questions or to schedule an interview with Assemblywoman Gonzalez, contact Sami Gallegos: samantha.gallegos@asm.ca.gov