Series: The New Labor Law Enforcers
State attorneys general, district attorneys, and localities like cities are increasingly key players in protecting workers’ rights. This new series by Terri Gerstein provides snapshots of enforcement and other actions to protect workers’ rights by these new and emerging labor law enforcers at the state and local level. Gerstein is an EPI senior fellow and director of the state and local enforcement project at the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, who has chronicled the growing influence of these new enforcers.
Recent cases brought by state and local enforcers include the recovery of $2 million for workers of a Seattle Domino’s franchisee that underpaid workers and didn’t give required notice of schedules; citation of Massachusetts Family Dollar stores for $1.5 million for thousands of meal break violations; and prosecution of several cases involving egregious violations of wage payment, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation laws.
Here’s a snapshot of some enforcement actions in early 2022.
The Seattle Office of Labor Standards obtained a $2 million settlement with a Domino’s franchisee that violated fair workweek, minimum wage, and overtime laws. The employer, with 14 locations in Seattle and more than 30 through the Puget Sound area, allegedly violated the city’s Secure Scheduling Ordinance, which requires large retail and food service employers to provide workers with their schedules at least 14 days in advance and provide workers with good-faith estimates of their work schedules, among other requirements. Domino’s also allegedly paid below Seattle’s minimum wage for all time worked in Seattle, and didn’t pay overtime when workers were assigned to multiple locations for over 40 hours per week. The Seattle Office of Labor Standards also reached a settlement for more than $250,000 with a national traffic control company that paid below the city’s minimum wage, among other violations.
The Massachusetts Attorney General cited Family Dollar, $1.5 million for thousands of meal break violations, resulting from short staffing at stores during a period prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Massachusetts AG also cited a domestic worker’s employer for almost $27,000 in restitution and penalties based on alleged violations of minimum wage, overtime, paid sick leave, and other laws.
Criminal prosecutors in Washington state, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, and Santa Clara County (CA) brought cases against employers who had committed egregious labor law violations. The Washington AG obtained guilty felony theft pleas from two business owners who didn’t pay wages to 24 employees of their house cleaning business. The company used employment agreements that prohibited workers from making inquiries about their paychecks and also stated that if employees refused to work because they haven’t received a check, then they would be terminated immediately. The employer’s sentence included repaying more than $33,000 to workers, as well as 120 days in jail, converted to electronic home monitoring, among other conditions.
The Rhode Island AG obtained a guilty plea in a case involving a janitorial contractor that failed to pay workers and evaded workers’ compensation laws in order to win a public contract on community college campuses. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office obtained a guilty plea from a former police officer who started a security company, underpaid workers, evaded unemployment insurance taxes and workers compensation obligations, and claimed that an injured worker wasn’t an employee even though he was in the company uniform driving the company car. Finally, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office brought wage theft and insurance fraud charges against a couple the allegedly underreported payroll to workers’ compensation insurance carriers and underpaid workers at their poultry processing business.
AG offices take action to protect health care and nonprofit workers from wage theft and sexual harassment. The D.C. AG’s office announced the filing of a lawsuit against a company operating supported living facilities for denying front-line health care workers’ wages owed early in the pandemic. The Washington AG filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against a veteran-focused nonprofit and its leader.
Multistate coalitions of state attorneys general urged federal agencies to adopt strong policies protecting the right to organize and safety from workplace heat. Sixteen states filed a brief before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) urging adoption of stronger protections against misclassification under the NLRA. And six states filed a comment in favor of a heat standard proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that would require employers to implement preventive measures to curb heat-related risks, including rest, hydration, gradual acclimatization, shade, and other measures.
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