The Sunshine State Is Suddenly Stormy: Caution For Employers In Miami-Dade County

Traditionally, the State of Florida has been hands off when it comes to wage hour issues.  While there is a minimum wage, it mirrors the FLSA’s $7.25/hour minimum wage requirement.  Additionally, there are no state-specific obligations imposed on employers for the payment of overtime wages nor state-specific exemptions.

Recently, however, Miami-Dade County (Florida’s most populous county) passed a wage ordinance that imposes a heavy penalty on unsuspecting employers who pay employee wages on a monthly or even bi-monthly basis.  The Miami-Dade County Wage Theft Law was enacted on public policy grounds “to eliminate and prevent wage theft.”  The ordinance applies to all private sector employers in Miami-Dade County and provides administrative procedures and penalties for allegations of wage theft.  The threshold amount for any claim filed under the ordinance is $60.00.

 What is “Wage Theft”?

 The ordinance mandates that any Miami-Dade County private sector employer has committed wage theft where the employer fails to pay any portion of wages owed to employees within a “reasonable time” from the date on which the work was performed. 

  • “Reasonable time” is presumed under the ordinance to be “no later than 14 calendar days from the date on which the work is performed”;
  • The employer and employee can agree to modify the time period for payment; however, the modified time cannot exceed 30 days from the date on which the work is performed;
  • Any modification agreement must be based on an express written agreement between the employee and the employer and which is signed by the employee;
  •  “Wages” include pay for daily, hourly, or piece work at a rate no less than the highest applicable rate established under federal, state, or local law.

 What are the Complaint Procedures?

The ordinance is enforced through administrative proceedings before a Miami-Dade County Hearing Examiner.  An aggrieved employee must take the following steps:

  • File a complaint with the County alleging a violation of the ordinance, stating the threshold amount of wages owed and specific facts regarding the violation;
  • If the complaint is sufficiently detailed, the County will serve the complaint on the employer (who is required to file an answer within 20 days);
  • If either party requests, the matter will proceed to hearing before a County-appointed Hearing Examiner;
  • The employee has the burden of proving wage theft by a preponderance of the evidence;
  • The Hearing Examiner will issue a final order setting forth written findings of fact and conclusion of law.

 **Note: Any employee who brings a private cause of action seeking unpaid wages against the employer, or who opts-in to a pending collective or class action, is automatically deemed to have their administrative complaint withdrawn.

 What are the Penalties?

If the County Hearing Examiner issues a wage violation finding, an employer must pay:

  • Treble damages to the employee for the amount of wages owed (this amount specifically includes liquidated damages);
  • Interest on the treble damages amount;
  • Assessed costs to the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners for actual administrative processing costs and hearing costs; and
  • Additional penalties to comply with the Hearing Examiner’s order.

The penalties for violating the Miami-Dade Wage Theft Law are costly.  Miami-Dade County employers should be aware of the ordinance; review their payroll policies and payment schedule to determine if employees are being paid within the confines of the presumed “reasonable time set out in the ordinance; and take steps where necessary to modify the reasonable time through an express written agreement signed by employees.

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