Michigan commercial cleaning company to pay $56K in back wages, $51K in penalties for violations of guest worker visa requirements
TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The H-2B Visa program exists to help supply employers with temporary foreign workers they need while protecting U.S. workers’ access to the same jobs. The program does not permit employers to misuse the program and not pay foreign and U.S. workers the same legally required wages.
The failure by Universal Cleaners LLC – a Traverse City commercial cleaning company – to meet the program’s requirements has led an administrative law judge in Cincinnati, Ohio, to approve consent findings and a settlement agreement between the company and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Through the settlement agreement, the employer will pay $56,734 in back wages to 10 temporary foreign workers who provided janitorial services and who the company paid less than the required prevailing wage rate. The agreement also required Universal Cleaners to pay $51,309 in civil money penalties.
The violations brought before the judge were found in a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation that also determined that, while the company shortchanged the workers’ wages, they also gave preferential treatment to these workers over U.S. workers. The division also identified violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“Temporary foreign workers are meant to fill jobs for which a sufficient number of U.S. workers cannot be found. To protect U.S. workers, the employment opportunities must be advertised to both U.S. and guest workers in an equal manner,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Mary O’Rourke in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “The Wage and Hour Division is committed to protecting U.S. workers and ensuring employers that use the H-2B visa program abide by all program requirements.”
The division determined Universal Cleaners violated the H-2B Visa program when it:
- Failed to advertise to U.S. workers that housing would be provided with this job.
- Advertised to U.S. workers that job applicants would have to submit to a drug test and meet lifting requirements, but no employees were subject to those requirements.
- Paid temporary foreign workers less than the required prevailing wage rate for janitorial work. The employer should have paid $12.56 per hour but instead paid $10.50 and $11.25 per hour.
- Employed a temporary foreign worker to do landscaping, despite being hired to work as a janitor.
- Failed to reimburse guest workers for their expenses traveling from and returning to their home countries, as required.
- Applied for temporary foreign workers for employment from April 1 to Nov. 30 but actually employed some workers outside of that period.
- Failed to notify proper authorities of the separation of one of the temporary foreign workers.
The division also found Universal Cleaners violated the FLSA when they failed to pay one employee overtime at the legally required rate.
In addition to paying the penalties and back wages, Universal Cleaners agreed to use a controller to oversee all hiring, payroll and employment practices involving temporary foreign workers. The employer also hired legal counsel specializing in labor and employment law and business-related immigration matters to assist with the H-2B application process and compliance with the H-2B program, and retain a third party to perform H-2B compliance audits. Future violations of the H-2B provisions could result in additional penalties and debarment from the program.
For more information about the H-2B Program, the FLSA and other laws enforced by WHD, contact the Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information is also available at www.dol.gov/agencies/whd, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.
COURT NO: Administrator, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor V. Universal Cleaners LLC, 2020-TNE-00040