Opinion: Nobody Has to Lose for All of Us to Win on Wages

In Denver’s competitive job market — for everyone from restaurant employees to construction workers — hiring and keeping the best personnel starts with paying at least the minimum wage rates required by law. That’s where my office can help.

 Denver Labor is a division of the Denver Auditor’s Office. As Denver’s elected Auditor, I oversee our work to provide oversight and accountability for both Denver’s city agencies and our wage enforcement efforts.

The Denver Labor team works hard every day to connect with employers in the city to educate them on all applicable wage requirements. For example, in the food and beverage industry, the requirement is the 2021 citywide minimum wage of $14.77 per hour with few exceptions — and it will increase to $15.87 per hour at the beginning of 2022. On city construction projects, the prevailing wage likely applies, in which case we work with contractors daily to ensure each different job type is paid according to prevailing wage requirements.

My team looks into every wage complaint we receive, and if an employee was underpaid on a job site, we encourage employers to voluntarily find a cooperative solution to get their workers the restitution they are owed.

In one recent case, we received a complaint from an employee at a local restaurant. The employer had not paid the minimum wage in 2020 or 2021. However, after working with our Denver Labor analyst, the restaurant’s management acted quickly and found a positive solution. In the end, we recovered $18,000 for 20 employees.

In another case, one of our analysts realized a contractor at the Denver Zoo was not set up in our payroll tracking system for city prevailing wage projects. The contractor cooperated in straightening out the reporting requirements and started submitting payroll records. We then found the employer was not paying its custodians the prevailing wage. The contractor took quick action and issued restitution checks to its employees. We recovered more than $83,000 for 48 employees.

To the hard workers in our city, every dollar matters, and we take every complaint and every case seriously. I appreciate employers who support their employees by doing the right thing by resolving underpayments quickly and accurately. Mistakes happen and most employers do not intend to underpay their workers — which is why we encourage cooperative resolution and why we avoid relying on fines or financial penalties unless there are no other possibilities for solutions.

Moreover, the best possible outcome is to get workers paid correctly on the first paycheck — without the need for a complaint and investigation. My office is always working on ways to speed up investigations and find positive conclusions in a timely manner. But nothing beats employers who get it right the first time.

That’s why outreach, education, and community awareness is so important to our work. If we can prepare businesses for what they need to do to support their workers, everyone will win.

Wage rights is also an equity matter. Many members of Denver’s underserved communities are working minimum wage jobs, and research shows members of these communities — especially those who speak other languages, like Spanish, as their primary language — may be less aware of their rights and what their government is doing on their behalf.

We hold virtual trainings in English and Spanish for both employers and workers every Wednesday on our Facebook page. We also do trainings and presentations for numerous community groups across the city, including many of the city’s foreign consulates. We offer bilingual fliers, posters, and pamphlets for both businesses and workers, as well as training videos and one-on-one connections with our staff. My team also visits job sites to talk with workers directly to ensure they are being paid at least what they are owed and to ensure they know their wage rights.

Denver’s wage laws protect some of the most vulnerable people, and I am proud to work on their behalf to make sure they get every dollar they are owed.

Workers and businesses both benefit when employers choose to support their employees with good wages. Supportive employers hold onto their most talented workers and create stability for their business. That means a predictable business model, a reduced risk of unexpected staffing shortages, and better service for every customer.

All of Denver benefits from having a minimum wage, and I am proud of my office’s work to bring employers and employees together in compliance with the law.

For more information, visit denvergov.org/DenverLabor

You can find more information about the Auditor and recent audits at denverauditor.org.

About the Auditor’s Office
Denver’s Auditor is publicly elected and answers to the voters. The role of the Auditor is to help minimize risks, improve internal controls, maximize efficiencies and strengthen accountability.

About Denver Labor
Denver Labor is a division of the Auditor’s Office focused on wage education and enforcement. Auditor O’Brien, his Executive Director Jeffrey Garcia, and their team work with both workers and businesses to ensure people are paid according to Denver’s wage laws. This includes the citywide minimum wage, contractor minimum wage, and prevailing wage ordinances.

About Auditor O’Brien

Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien, CPA, has more than 40 years of auditing and accounting experience. Auditor O’Brien strives to bring greater clarity, transparency and accountability to Denver’s city government for its residents. Elected in 2015 and reelected in 2019, Timothy O’Brien is distinguished from his predecessors by being an actual professional auditor. 


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