Aug 21, 2023 - News

Millions in lost wages recovered for workers in Denver

Companies with the most unpaid wages for Denver employees
Data: Denver Auditor's Office; Table: Axios Visuals. Note: The chart shows amount recovered for workers.

Hundreds of companies across Denver owed $1.48 million in unpaid wages so far this year to nearly 3,000 workers, according to the city Auditor's Office.

  • It nearly equals all the money recovered in 2022 ($1.10 million) and 2021 ($690,268) combined.

Why it matters: It's the most ever recovered in a single year, according to a statement from the auditor, who's responsible for protecting workers from wage theft and ensuring minimum wage is paid by companies operating in the city.

  • Denver's minimum wage is $17.29 but will increase to $18.29 starting Jan. 1, 2024.

By the numbers: The money recovered went to 2,855 people from companies ranging from large corporations like Good Times Burger to local staffing and parking agencies. The Auditor's Office focuses on work performed in the city.

  • Towne Park, a valet parking company, had the largest number of affected employees with 404 and more than $319,000 in unpaid wages.
  • In a statement to Axios Denver, it said it's in full compliance with the city laws after it learned last year that it had made an error in claiming tips from its employees. The company said it had paid all wages owed to its employees.

The intrigue: Valet parking companies are among the businesses most likely to face underpayment complaints, since they can sometimes incorrectly claim a tip credit, auditor spokesperson Tayler Overschmidt tells us.

  • State law allows employers to pay food and beverage employees, who often receive tips, $3.02 less than the minimum wage.
  • But that credit can only be claimed if employers have documented proof their workers received money in actual tips.

Of note: Wage theft disproportionately impacts people of color, with Latino workers the most likely to be victims, and women more likely to experience it than men, according to a 2022 Colorado Fiscal Institute report.

  • "Wage theft not only harms low-income workers, but also harms local businesses by reducing local spending and hurts the public by reducing tax revenue used for public services," the report reads.

The big picture: An estimated $728 million is lost to wage theft in Colorado every year, according to the report. That means the state loses out on about $45 million in tax revenue annually.

What's next: Overschmidt said it's likely more money will be recovered by the office, since its reporting period runs from November through October to allow for the annual new minimum wage rate to take effect on Jan. 1.

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