The U.S. Department of Labor is currently holding more than $5 million in wages owed to more than 7,000 Illinois workers, and the department has launched a new website in an effort to return it.
When an employee is underpaid for the work they do, the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division can launch an investigation. If it finds that the employee is owed money, known as back pay, the department collects the unpaid wages and attempts to distribute it to the employee.
The new Workers Owed Wages website attempts to connect workers with potential unclaimed back pay.
“As you can imagine, sometimes the workers have moved or their addresses aren’t known and therefore, those are the workers, we term unlocatables, that we search for based on the best information we can. But sometimes we are unable to locate them,” said Tom Gauza, district director of the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Department of Labor can only hold employees’ back pay for three years. After that it is turned over to the Department of Treasury and the employee can no longer claim it. The department also cannot send money to people using tax filing information received each year since not all employees have social security numbers or live at their listed addresses, Gauza said.
“It’s important if they are looking to see if they are owed money that they check the WOW system, and that’s why we’re trying to get the message out,” Gauza said.
Across the country, more than 222,000 workers can still claim more than $161.4 million in back wages, according to the Department of Labor. Gauza said the most common industries in which the department investigates and finds unpaid wages are restaurant, home health care, agriculture and construction.
Workers who think they are due back wages can go to the Workers Owed Wages website and follow the instructions on the main page to search the database. It is available in English and Spanish. If a worker finds they are owed money, that person will be directed to a Department of Labor office that can send them a check. Gauza said employees can also claim wages regardless of their immigration status.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.