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.