WHD News Release: [04/15/2014]
Contact Name: Jose A. Carnevali
Phone Number: (415) 625-2631
Release Number: 14-0557-SAN
Hawaii's Fat Law's Farm to pay $460,000 for labor violations following US Department of Labor investigation
HONOLULU Fat Law's Farm Inc. has been ordered by a court to pay $428,800 in back wages and liquidated damages to workers after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division found the Oahu-based employer in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions. The company has also agreed to pay $31,200 in civil money penalties because of deplorable housing, safety and health conditions for workers, in violation of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
"Failure to pay minimum wage and overtime to agricultural workers has become distressingly common when large agricultural actors, such as Fat Law's Farm, establish a clear system of nonpayment or underpayment of wages," said Janet Herold, the department's regional solicitor in San Francisco. "This judgment makes clear that the department will not permit the creation of a second-tier workforce in which coercion, substandard housing and underpayment of wages rule the day."
Fat Law's Farm and owners Frank Law, Alice Law and Tim Law, failed to pay minimum wage for all hours worked and did not pay employees overtime at time and one-half their regular rates of pay for all hours beyond 40 in a workweek, as required by the FLSA. The company employed two primary groups of workers. Filipino workers were predominantly paid at $7.25 per hour, with overtime compensation. Workers, mainly from Laos, were paid $5 per hour in cash, without overtime, for 70 hours per week on average. In a consent judgment filed in the U.S. District Court of Hawaii, Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered Fat Law's Farm permanently enjoined and restrained from violating the provisions of the FLSA. The department executed a search warrant issued by the U.S. District Court in Hawaii that permitted Wage and Hour investigators to gain access to Fat Law's Farm.
"The department made use of a search warrant to get an honest snapshot of the pay practices and working conditions established by the employer and the documented effort to hide evidence and witnesses from inspection," said Juan Coria, acting regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Western Region. "With the warrant, we obtained unhindered access to employee and payroll documents reflecting names and payment disbursements to workers employed at the farm, including employees paid only in cash. We will continue to protect workers, prevent abuse and enforce labor laws, particularly where workers are vulnerable and violations are so egregious, as in this case."
Fat Law's Farm produces and supplies herbs and vegetables in Hawaii and is the main exporter of Hawaiian-grown basil to the U.S. mainland and Canada, which is sold locally by retailers, such as Safeway Inc. Employers under the MSPA are required to provide safe housing and safe transportation. The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Earnings may be determined on a piece-rate basis, but overtime pay must be computed using the employee's average hourly rate. The law also requires employers to maintain accurate records of employees' wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law.
For more information about the FLSA, MSPA and other federal wage laws, call the division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Honolulu office at 808-541-1361. Information is also available at www.dol.gov/whd/.