Yesterday, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement issued a press release announcing that it was launching a Criminal Investigation Unit to investigate “wage theft and other criminal activities against workers.” 

“Wage theft” is part of the DLSE’s new lingo (see, for example, The Wage Theft Protection Act). Presumably, it’s intended to suggest that employers who don’t correctly pay employees are stealing from them, as opposed to being confused about the myriad vague and shifting payroll requirements in California.

So how do you combat crime? With armed cops, of course! “The CIU is made up entirely of sworn peace officers who have completed the police academy[,] . . . report directly to the Labor Commissioner[, and are] . . . permitted to carry firearms.”

The only way I can make sense of any of this is if the sale of the TV rights to CIU: Criminal Investigation Unit will be used to pay down the state’s massive budget deficit.

As I write this, the press release isn’t available online.  So I’ll reproduce it below the picture of CIU officers moving in on an employer who miscalculated the regular rate of pay.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                        CONTACT:

Monday, February 27, 2012                                                                                 Erika Monterroza

IR# 12-09                                                                                                              Dean Fryer

Internet:                                                                                     (510) 286-1161

California Labor Commissioner Launches Criminal Investigation Unit  

OaklandFebruary 27, 2012—The Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE, also known as the Labor Commissioner’s Office) today announces the creation of the Criminal Investigation Unit (CIU) designed to investigate employers who perpetrate wage theft and other criminal activities against workers.

“We are very excited to announce the creation of this unit, which will be tasked with leveling the playing field for California employers by raising the stakes for those who underpay, underbid and under-report in violation of the law,” said California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su.  “This is a vital tool in our efforts to step up enforcement to protect California workers and employers struggling to make an honest living.”

The CIU is made up entirely of sworn peace officers who have completed the police academy and report directly to the Labor Commissioner.  CIU peace officers qualify quarterly to be permitted to carry firearms and meet yearly guidelines for additional training established by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. Their functions will include investigations and arrests for Labor Code violations, filing of criminal charges and serving subpoenas and inspection warrants.

“Employers who violate labor laws at the expense of their workers should know that we are now applying a new enforcement tool to address flagrant mistreatment of workers,” added DIR Director Christine Baker.  “The new Criminal Investigation Unit will be tasked with supporting existing enforcement and moving cases that need greater attention to the next level of prosecution.”

Members of the unit are currently providing training to DLSE staff in district offices across the state to highlight laws covered by the CIU.  This training will assist staff in identifying cases that can be referred to the unit for criminal investigation.

Cases handled by the Criminal Investigation Unit include workers’ compensation violations, theft of labor (which can be a felony or misdemeanor), payment of wages with bounced checks or other insufficient funds, unlicensed farm labor contractors and garment manufacturers, kickbacks on public works projects, violations involving minors on the job, and impeding of Labor Commissioner investigations.

“As a law enforcement agency, we will use all tools available to us to bring about compliance.   The Labor Code’s criminal provisions acknowledge that wage theft is a threat not just to those most directly affected, but to public safety and the health of our economy,” added Su.  “It is my job to enforce those provisions, and now we will do so.”

The DLSE protects employees’ rights in the workplace while preserving a level playing field for employers who comply with the Labor Code by adjudicating wage claims, investigating discrimination and public works complaints, and enforcing state labor law and Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders. To learn more about the functions of the California Labor Commissioner, visit

Employees who have work-related questions or complaints can call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757.