Washington D.C.’s “Wage Theft Prevention Amendment Act of 2014” – Two Years Later

On September 19, 2014 then-mayor Vince Gray signed the District of Columbia Wage Theft Prevention Amendment Act into law.  It became effective on February 26, 2015.  The law made several significant changes to previous wage and hour law that will bolster the rights of workers in the District for years to come.  Some of the strongest features of the new law include:

(1) Opt-Out Class Actions. Previous law in the District contained an opt-in requirement in which, after certification of a class, qualifying individuals would have to affirmatively opt  in to join the suit.  The new law removes the opt-in requirement so that similarly situated individuals (the “class members”) are bound by the judgment in a class suit unless the class members opt out in advance. Empirically, laws that authorize class actions with an opt-out, rather than opt-in, mechanism have resulted in substantially greater participation in class actions. See, e.g., Craig Becker & Paul Strauss, Representing Low-Wage Workers in the Absence of a Class:
The Peculiar Case of Section 16 of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Underenforcement of Minimum Labor Standards, 92 MINN. L. REV. 1317, 1325–32 (2008). The practical effect is more robust enforcement of wage and hour laws.

(2) Quadruple Damages. The new law provides for liquidated damages in an amount three times that of the unpaid wages. The result is that an employee could recover four times his or her unpaid wages. This provision should act as a significant deterrent for employers tempted to pad their bottom lines by cheating their workers.

(3) Administrative Hearing. The Wage Theft Prevention Act creates an administrative hearing process in which an employee can attempt to resolve wage and hour disputes through conciliation.  If conciliation fails, however, the employee can petition for redress from an administrative law judge, who is vested with authority to engage in discovery and render a ruling that is not appealable on the merits.