On March 16, 2015, Osceola County commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a wage theft ordinance,Ordinance 2015-21, empowering employees to raise claims related to non-payment and under-payment of earned wages. The ordinance, entitled “Wage Recovery,” is based on a similar ordinance already in place in Miami-Dade County, but is the first of its kind in central Florida.

According to the new ordinance, wage theft occurs when “[a]ny employer fails to pay any portion of wages due to an employee, according to the wage rate applicable to the employee, within a reasonable time from the date on which that employee performed the work for which those wages were compensated.” The ordinance defines “employee” as “a natural person who performs work within the geographic boundaries of Osceola County while being employed by an employer.” The term “employer” is defined broadly to include “any person who…acts directly or indirectly in the interest of a person or entity employing an employee” including third-party labor providers, but excludes the United States and the State of Florida.

The ordinance allows that an employee may file a wage theft complaint for an alleged violation equal to or over the threshold amount of sixty (60) dollars within one (1) year from the date the wages were due to be paid. After the complaint is filed, the employer has twenty (20) days to respond, and the County may exercise subpoena powers and appoint a hearing officer to hear the claim. The employee has the burden to show a violation of the ordinance by a preponderance of the evidence.

If an employer is found to have violated the ordinance, the employer is responsible for paying three times the amount of back wages owed, plus attorney’s fees and costs and County administrative costs. Upon expiration of the time to appeal and after the order is final, the County is also empowered to suspend or revoke an employer’s local business tax receipt based on violations of the ordinance. The ordinance also contains an anti-retaliation provision, protecting employees who file wage theft complaints.

Due to this new ordinance, we advise employers in Osceola County to review their pay practices to ensure they are in compliance with all federal, state, and local wage and hour laws.