Wage theft is a growing epidemic across the U.S., costing American workers an estimated $50 billion a year in stolen money, according to a 2023 study by the Economic Policy Institute. New York state leaders are trying to recover stolen wages. 

“It’s a devastating impact, not just on the worker themselves but on the people around them," said Roberta Reardon, commissioner of the state Department of Labor. 

Putting in time at work and not receiving the money and/or benefits owed can, unfortunately, occur in multiple ways.  

“Wage theft happens in many different ways," Reardon said. "Sometimes, your employer doesn’t pay you at all. That’s terrible. Sometimes, you’re underpaid on your overtime. Sometimes, you’re underpaid on your paid time off.”

It’s an issue Gov. Kathy Hochul recognized two years ago when she announced how the state will combat the crime. Her plan includes a new wage theft hotline and a tracking tool for the state's Wage Theft Task Force. Since then, millions of dollars have gone back into workers' pockets, Reardon said. 

“We have collected more than $63 million for more than 65,000 workers," said Reardon. 

That includes a $1 million recovery for Chipotle employees after reviewing the chain’s pay records from December of 2018 to September 2022. 

“We go in and we pull their wage records," she said. "We assume if one worker’s being cheated, they’re not the only one. So we pull the wage records and we look at the wages for people working at that work site. Often, like at Chipotle, we find out that there are other cases as well."

Despite the state’s efforts, the issue is expected to continue to be prevalent. So how can workers ensure they're not being taken advantage of? 

“Look at your pay stubs," Reardon said. "Don’t assume you’re being paid correctly every week. That is the first flag.”

New Yorkers can file a claim on the state Department of Labor’s website. The department is working on making wage theft data more public on its website. 

“That’s important too because a community should know if there’s wage theft going on in their community and what it looks like," she said.