Fla.: St. Petersburg Passes Wage Theft Ordinance

By Rosemarie Lally May 18, 2015

A wage theft ordinance unanimously passed April 16, 2015, by the St. Petersburg City Council will establish a city office with one dedicated employee to investigate wage complaints and pursue employers who don’t pay employees what they are owed.

An employer’s failure to pay wages, or a portion of wages, owed an employee within a reasonable time – typically, 14 business days – from the date on which the work was performed is considered “wage theft” under the new ordinance. The law defines a wage as “any form of monetary compensation which the employee agreed to accept in exchange for performing work for the employer, whether a salary, daily or hourly wage, or by piece.” The minimum threshold amount for which an employee can sue is $60; independent contractors are not covered.

Under the program, which must be launched within four months, the new city office will serve a complaint and written notice on the employer upon receipt of a worker’s complaint. The documents will detail the allegations, rights, and obligations of the parties, including the right to a due process hearing before a hearing officer. The employer must answer the complaint within 21 days of service. If a confidential conciliation process fails to resolve the dispute, a full evidentiary hearing is required.

Generally, the burden of proof is on the employee but shifts to the employer if no wage records exist. Actions must be brought within one year after the date wages were due to be paid. The final determination of the hearing officer may be appealed in a court of “competent jurisdiction.”

If a hearing officer finds that an employer failed to pay wages due, the employee may recover back wages, liquidated damages equal to twice the amount of back wages owed, reasonable costs expended in securing the recovery, and attorney’s fees from the employer. Further, an anti-retaliation provision holds an employer liable for “quantifiable wages” and liquidated damages if retaliation resulted in any loss of an employee’s wages.

St. Petersburg’s ordinance also allows local non-profit social service, religious or community organizations serving low-wage earners to pass complaints on to the city. The city also may proactively initiate investigations of employers.

St. Petersburg is the first Florida city government to pass a wage theft law. Four other counties have passed ordinances since 2010, and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are working on ordinances.

Rosemarie Lally, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.

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