U.S. Department of Labor Debars Kentucky Tobacco Farmer and Assesses $35,755 Penalty for Visa Program Violations
GLASGOW, KY – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has debarred Christopher Lee Smith – owner of Christopher Lee Smith Farms in Glasgow – from applying for certification to request temporary foreign workers under the H-2A agricultural worker visa program for three years. WHD also assessed the employer a $35,755 civil penalty for violating the labor provisions of the H-2A program, and found that Smith owed $58,820 in back wages to 14 employees.
WHD investigators found Smith violated the requirements of the H-2A visa program by failing to reimburse foreign workers for their transportation expenses to and from their home countries as the law requires, failing to reimburse employees for expenses related to obtaining their visas, failing to keep required time and pay records, and failing to pay employees their wages when due. Smith also failed to pay the required minimum wage to H-2A visa workers, required by law so that their employment does not depress the wages of U.S. workers in the area.
“Any employer seeking H-2A workers must be ready and willing to abide by all of the program’s requirements, and must not attempt to shift any of the employer’s costs onto the workers,” said Karen Garnett, Wage and Hour Division District Director in Louisville. “This case demonstrates our commitment to safeguard American jobs, level the playing field for law-abiding employers, and protect vulnerable workers from being paid less than they are legally owed.”
The H-2A temporary agricultural program establishes a means for agricultural employers, who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers, to bring non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature.
The program requires an employer to attest to the Department of Labor that it will offer a wage that equals or exceeds the highest of the following: the prevailing wage for the occupation and geographic area, applicable federal minimum wage, state minimum wage, or local minimum wage. This wage will be paid to the H-2A workers and certain similarly employed U.S. workers during the entire period of the approved labor certification. The program also establishes recruitment and displacement standards to protect similarly employed U.S. workers.