I Can Smile Now

When Sandra’s* employer refused to pay her $4,200 of her wages, Sandra fought back.

Sandra began working as a home health aid in January 2010 for a home health agency, earning $10.50 per hour. She worked hard to ensure her ill and elderly patients consistently received the best care from her possible, yet she herself could not be assured she would be compensated for the work she performed, not knowing when the next paycheck from her employer would arrive.

Over the course of the two years that Sandra worked at the home health agency, her paychecks arrived six weeks or 2 months apart, the time span between paychecks lengthening with time. When Sandra complained to her employer, she was told that they simply did not have the money to pay Sandra on time for her work. The late payments continued until Sandra , fed up, quit in January, 2012.

After quitting, Sandra called her supervisor on a weekly basis to inquire about her missing paychecks, but was met with the same excuses each time. Frustrated, Sandra came to the Employment Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Clinic on March 14, 2012 to get help. The EJC helped Sandra write a demand letter to the home health agency for $4,200 in unpaid wages. When the agency ignored the letter, the EJC helped Sandra file a claim with the DC Office of Wage Hour (OWH).

Hoping to finally be paid, Sandra set up an appointment with the Office of Wage-Hour for April 2012, to file a wage claim. She met with an OWH investigator and showed the investigator all of her timesheets and bank statements to show how much the company owed. The investigator took down all of the information that Sandra had, and told Sandra to go home, and that she would be in touch. Sandra never received a call.

Sandra called the investigator at OWH every two weeks for an entire year only to be told the same thing each time – they had not yet heard back from her employer. One day in June of 2013, Sandra decided she had waited long enough. She tried calling OWH one last time to ask about the status of her case when she was met with a familiar response: “I’ll call you back.”

Sandra called her former supervisor at the home health agency, yet again, to inquire about her wages, but this time she had an idea. Sandra informed the agency that she would contact the media to inform them that her wages were being stolen if they did not pay her what she was owed. Two hours later, Sandra received a follow-up call from her former employer saying the company would pay her what she was owed if she could bring proof. Sandra showed proof of the wages she was owed, and on June 20th 2013, twenty-one months after she began her fight, Sandra was handed a check for the full amount of her unpaid wages.

Unfortunately, Sandra’s story only highlights the endemic practice of wage theft and the inability of OWH to ensure all workers in the District receive the wages they are owed. “I am very disappointed in the Office of Wage-Hour, because when someone goes to that office to get help with their problems, the office needs to do more to stand up and defend the workers,” says Sandra. “They need to stand up and help those who need it the most. This situation has been very stressful for me, to work and not get my pay” she says. “I thought about it all the time because I know it is so much money that I was owed.”

Now that the case is closed, Sandra feels relieved. “I can smile now,” she explains.

We need your help to win the campaign to stop wage theft. Please sign the wage theft petition to urge the DC Council to enact stronger protections against wage theft, to ensure that all workers receive the wages they are owed.

*Name changed to protect worker’s privacy.