Violation Chart

Selected violation rates from “Unregulated Work in Chicago: The Breakdown of Workplace Protections in the Low-Wage Labor Market”










We began our startup journey with the intuition that workers’ rights were challenged, but we had no idea how bad the situation was until we discovered this report.

Researchers at University of Illinois – Chicago, with colleagues in LA and NYC, interviewed several thousand workers in 2008, and found widespread wage theft and other labor law violations. Here’s a selection from “Unregulated Work in Chicago: The Breakdown of Workplace Protections in the Low-Wage Labor Market”:

Minimum wage violations:   

  • ˆ26% of workers were paid less than the legally required minimum wage in the previous work week.  
[emphasis added]
  • Over 60% of workers were underpaid by more than $1 per hour.
  • Overtime violations:  

    • One‐quarter of our respondents worked more than 40 hours during the previous week.  Of those, 67% weren’t paid the legally required overtime rate.
    • The average worker with a violation had put in 8 hours of overtime in the prior week—hours that were either underpaid or not paid at all.

    “Off‐the‐clock” violations:

    Nearly one‐quarter (23%) of the workers came in early and/or stayed late after their shift during the previous work week.  Of these, 69% didn’t receive any pay at all for the work they performed outside of their regular shift.

    Meal break violations:

    Three‐quarters of respondents worked enough consecutive hours to earn at least one meal break. Of these workers, 43% received no break at all, had their break shortened, were interrupted by their employer, or worked during the break—all of which violates meal break law.

    Pay stub violations and illegal deductions:

    Regardless of whether they’re paid in cash or by check, Illinois workers must receive documentation of their earnings and deductions. However, 45% didn’t receive this documentation in the prior work week.

    Employers usually can’t take deductions from a worker’s pay for damage or loss, work‐related tools or materials or transportation.But 44% of workers who reported deductions from their pay in the previous work week experienced these types of illegal deductions.

    Tipped job violations:
    Of the tipped workers in our sample, 15% weren’t paid the tipped worker minimum wage

    Illegal employer retaliation:
    When workers complained about their working conditions or tried to organize union, employers often responded by retaliating against them. Many workers never complained in the first place, often because they feared retaliation by their employer.

    Over one‐quarter (26%) of workers said that they had complained to their employer or attempted to form a union in the last year. Of those, 35% experienced one or more forms of illegal retaliation. For example, employers fired or suspended workers, threatened to call immigration authorities, or threatened to cut workers’ hours or pay.

    Another 15% of workers reported that they didn’t complain to their employer during the past year, even though they had experienced a serious problem (e.g., dangerous working conditions or not being paid the minimum wage). Over half were afraid of losing their job, 12% were afraid they would have their hours or wages cut, and 36% thought it wouldn’t make a difference.

    Workers’ compensation violations:

    • Of the workers who experienced a serious injury on the job, only 9% filed a workers’ compensation claim.
    • When workers told their employer about the injury, 20% experienced an illegal
      employer reaction—including firing the worker, calling immigration authorities, or
      telling the worker not to file for workers’ compensation.
    • Almost half of those injured on the job had to pay their bills out‐of‐pocket (41%) or use their health insurance to cover the expenses (8%).  Workers’ compensation insurance paid (all or part) medical expenses for only 3% of the injured workers.

    You can learn more about entire study at “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities”.