91% of California service sector workers encountered labor violations in 2023: Study reveals

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Workers in California frequently experienced job-related violations despite the state’s stringent labor laws in 2023, according to a recent survey titled “Compliance and the Complaint Gap: Labor Standards Violations in the California Service Sector,” as reported by The Los Angeles Times.


Researchers from UC San Francisco and Harvard University surveyed 980 workers from major retail, food, and service sector companies in California. 


The survey found that 41% of respondents experienced serious labor violations in 2023, and overall, 91% of surveyed workers faced at least one violation in the same year.


The findings showed widespread abuses concerning pay, work schedules, and other issues. Violations included working off the clock, unpaid overtime, and earning less than minimum wage. 


Issues with paid sick leave and meal breaks were also prevalent, with 58% of workers not receiving proper rest breaks.


The survey also indicated that workers often did not report issues, with many facing retaliation or negative consequences when they did. This discouraged workers from seeking help from regulatory bodies like California labor commissioner.


Key Takeaways:

  • The study emphasizes that California labor laws themselves are not ineffective, but their potential is not fully realized due to routine violations. 
  • There’s a need to understand why California’s advanced labor standards are not adequately protecting workers.
  • A robust enforcement system is necessary to ensure compliance with labor laws.


Study Background:

  • The study, limited to large firm employees, does not account for undocumented workers or those in domestic, agricultural, and construction jobs, where violations may be more common. 
  • Smaller firm employees were also excluded but likely experience higher violation rates.
  • The study’s release coincides with renewed debate over California’s Private Attorneys General Act, which allows workers to sue employers for back wages and seek civil penalties. 


Additional Information:

  • A separate report by Rutgers University titled “Wage Theft in California: Minimum Wage Violations, 2014-2023” found that minimum wage violations have more than doubled in four California metropolitan areas since 2014. 
  • The research projected that workers in Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, and San Francisco lost an average of US$2.3 to US$4.6 billion in earned wages annually from 2014 to 2023 because of minimum wage violations.
  • Workers who received less than the minimum wage typically lost around 20% of their total earnings, amounting to nearly US$4,000 per year for full-time employment.
  • The most significant impact of violations was observed in the San Francisco area, where workers lost an average of US$4,300 to US$4,900 annually due to minimum wage violations.
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