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Study Calls For New Wage-Claims Policies At VA Department Of Labor And Industry

Hundred dollar bills
Although many claims reviewed by the VA Department of Labor and Industry are small, they are significant for low-income workers living from paycheck to paycheck. (Photo: Jean Beaufort)

Reported by VPM News Intern Patrick Larsen.

A new study from the nonprofit Legal Aid Justice Center suggests the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) is doing very little to help workers recover unpaid wages from employers.

The study used Freedom of Information Act public records requests to obtain DOLI records. Nicholas Marritz, an attorney and author on the report, says the records from the last four years reveal the agency has recovered wages in less than 20% of claims made by workers.

“Another thing we found is that the agency doesn’t even investigate almost half of the claims that it receives,” Marritz said.

Marritz says DOLI is supposed to provide a way for low-income workers to ensure they get paid.

“Because it’s usually not worth it for those workers to go to court to get their wages, but those wages are really, really important for them,” Marritz said.

The study pointed to eight internal DOLI policies that can be big obstacles for workers making claims. Marritz says these policies allow the agency to, among other things, reject claims for workers who have written contracts or have worked over 40 hours in one workweek, whether or not overtime pay is included in the complaint.

Neither of these policies has a clear legal reasoning, according to the report.

“These are things the agency could change tomorrow if it wanted to,” Marritz said.

The report shows these policies account for about a third of rejected claims. Marritz says the department is working to improve its policies now.

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