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Bill would mandate labor commission as the first stop for many workers stiffed on wages

(KUTV) When sisters Emily and Danielle Estrada couldn't get money they'd earned working at a Provo restaurant, they filed claims with the Utah labor commission.

Then they waited.

Then they waited some more.

They learned, as have many others, the Utah Labor Commission is constantly backlogged.

Another option available to jilted workers is to sue their boss, but that option may soon vanish for many, at least as a first resort.

Utah lawmakers have voted to amend Utah’s Payment of Wages Act, declaring that if a boss owes his or her employee "less than $10,000," the employee can't sue unless they first "exhaust administrative remedies."

In other words, they must first go through the back-logged labor commission before they can sue in court.

The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

Rep. Tim Hawkes is the bill's sponsor. He says that forcing workers to go through the labor commission is good for workers because it costs money to go to court and most claims under $10,000 aren't worth litigating.

"I don't see any downside for employees, only upside," he said Tuesday. “I think the labor commission is very well equipped to resolve these claims quickly and efficiently."

Alison Adams-Perlac is the director of the labor commission’s anti-discrimination and labor division. She said she supports Hawkes’ bill.

She said her division is working to decrease the time-frame it takes to resolve wage claims, striving to get the average to less than 180 days. The current average is 217 days -- more than seven months.

Still, despite the division's past and continuing problems with delays, she said her staff can handle any extra work the bill might mean for them.

"We are working continually at that backlog. That backlog number is going down," she said. “We feel comfortable that we can meet the demand of any cases that come through the door if this bill is passed."

Another thing Hawkes’ bill will do is clarify exactly who a worker is allowed to go after if he or she is stiffed on wages. The bill will clarify the legal definition of employer, which will allow workers to collect back wages from both the company for which they worked as well as directly from the people who run the company.

Both Hawkes and Adams-Perlac said clarifying that language will be a big win for jilted workers.

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