Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
US Labor Department investigation results in court order against landscaping companies for wrongly misclassifying employees, $173,000 in back wages
DETROIT -- Barlen Contracting Inc. and Barlen PG Inc., two landscaping and snow removal companies in Farmington Hills, Mich., have been court-ordered to pay $173,000 in back wages to 16 employees following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. The investigation disclosed that the companies violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by requiring employees to register as independent contractors and then paying them straight time for hours worked beyond 40 in a week.
“An employer cannot avoid paying employees what they are due simply by calling them independent contractors,” said James Smith, district director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Detroit office. “The Wage and Hour Division is committed to ensuring compliance to protect and enhance the welfare of the nation’s workforce. This commitment includes making sure that workers receive all wages they work hard for and deserve.”
The Wage and Hour Division’s investigation found that the two companies failed to pay the misclassified employees the minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime compensation for all hours worked over 40 in a week. In addition, the company failed to preserve adequate and accurate pay records as required by law.
In an injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, the court held that both Barlen companies and their owner, Bart Wingblad, are liable for the FLSA violations and the back wages owed to the 16 workers affected by the illegal pay practices. The injunction also stipulates that the companies and the owner must not violate the FLSA in the future.
The misclassification of employees as independent contractors is an alarming trend, particularly in industries such as landscaping that often employ low-wage vulnerable workers and where the Wage and Hour Division has historically found significant wage violations. The practice is a serious threat to both workers, who are entitled to good and safe jobs, and to employers who obey the law and are undercut when others use illegal practices. Too often workers are deprived of overtime premiums and minimum wages, forced to pay taxes their employers are legally obligated to pay and left with no recourse if they are injured or discriminated against in the workplace. The department is focused on these very important issues and is committed to leveling the playing field for employers who play by the rules.
The Wage and Hour Division enforces the FLSA, which requires employees to be paid the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, and time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked over 40 in a week unless an employee is exempt from overtime pay. Employers must also maintain accurate time and payroll records.
To learn more about the FLSA’s requirements call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free hotline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information can also be found on the Internet at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
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