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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Alachua County Commission discusses wage-theft ordinance

To give Alachua County residents a local resource to receive overdue paychecks, the Alachua County Commission is formulating the Wage Recovery Ordinance.

The commission discussed a draft of the document at a meeting Tuesday evening.

The proposed ordinance will enable employees who believe they’ve been a victim of wage theft to file a complaint with the county.

If mediation fails, the case will be referred to a hearing officer, who will review the evidence and make a decision whether a violation occurred.

The case could end up in court if the employer fails to pay.

The conversation Tuesday centered on how to make sure the ordinance is strong enough to be effective.

Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Chestnut said the ordinance should work because the county will become responsible for billing an employer found in the wrong.

“I think that’s how you put the teeth in,” he said. “When the county collects its fees.”

Commissioner Lee Pinkoson disagreed, saying the ordinance is still not strong enough because a hearing officer doesn’t have enough leverage.

He said the only way to reimburse employees for wages is by taking employers to court.

“If the people ultimately want to get paid, it sounds like where we’ll have to go is the court system,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like the hearing officer has the teeth we’re looking for.”

County Attorney Dave Wagner said the two local attorneys who are paid to work for the county would probably serve as the hearing officers initially.

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At the end of the meeting, commissioners voted 3-1, with Commissioner Susan Baird absent, to continue modifying a draft of the ordinance. They requested the county manager bring back a proposal for a public education and outreach campaign targeting employers.

The commission will host a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. April 16 to discuss the updated ordinance.

Contact Kelcee Griffis at kgriffis@alligator.org.

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