Valdosta non-profit cited for shorting pay to disabled workers; Biltmore Estate cited for immigrant

By David Pendered

A non-profit in Valdosta was cited for stiffing disabled persons out of wages, the U.S. Labor Department announced last week. It’s the second case in a month the DOL has brought against a Georgia employer for shorting workers of pay.

Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate was named in a case of giving preferential treatment to a cook with an H-2B visa, over a U.S. citizen who wanted the cook position, and in a program that offered only immigrants reduced weekly rates for housing, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor. Credit: Irkadari/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

DOL’s investigations into wages are gaining currency in an era of employers offering fairly flat wage growth, as recorded in last week’s edition of the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book. Job seekers have responded to the wage scenario by asking potential employers for benefits other than pay.

Just last month in Gwinnett County, the Labor Department ordered a Suwanee company to pay $105,020 in back wages and liquidated damages to 36 employees. DOL investigators determined that Granite Masters, Inc., hadn’t paid overtime wages to the 36 workers and had attempted to conceal the fact that they were employees, not contractors who are exempt from OT wages.

In the Valdosta ruling last week, the DOL announced the Lowndes Advocacy Resource Center, Inc. will pay $157,473 in back wages to a total of 130 employees, according to a statement. LARC was incorporated in 1971, state records show.

The situation at LARC was discovered by DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, which determined:

  • “WHD found that LARC Inc. incorrectly rounded two of the prevailing wage rates it used to determine employees’ pay, resulting in underpayment under the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act]. The employer also deducted break times of 15 minutes from the daily work hours of some employees, and failed to count travel time and time employees spent donning personal protection equipment as work time.
  • “Each of these instances of unrecorded work time resulted in underpayment to employees. The inaccurate records of employees’ work hours also resulted in a record keeping violation.”

The record keeping violation led DOL to determine the Valdosta agency hadn’t keep records that showed certain employees could be paid a sub-minimum wage. DOL investigators ruled the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act:

  • “[R]equires that individuals with disabilities age 24 or younger complete pre-employment transition services, vocational rehabilitation services, and career counseling, information, and referral services before consideration for work at sub-minimum wages under the FLSA’s Section 14(c).
  • “WHD found that the center failed to provide the documentation showing all three of the requirements had been completed by the designated state unit prior to employees being paid a sub-minimum wage.”

So far in July, DOL has announced 17 violations across the nation, including the Valdosta and Suwanee cases – and the Biltmore Estate.

The Biltmore Estate was named in one of the 17 violations reported by DOL.

The popular destination near Asheville, N.C. gave preferential treatment to immigrant applicants with an H-2B visa, in terms of a cook’s position. In addition, Biltmore provided a housing program that provided reduced rates only to non-immigrant workers, but didn’t notify U.S. applicants about the program, according to a DOL determination. This is DOL’s synopsis:

  • “WHD determined that even though one U.S. applicant applied for and maintained his interest in a cook position with the Biltmore Estate, the company considered him overqualified and did not hire him, hiring instead a guest worker through the H-2B visa program. This action resulted in a violation of the H-2B program’s labor provisions, which mandate that participating employers must hire qualified U.S. workers over non-immigrant applicants.
  • “WHD also found the employer failed to disclose to U.S. applicants that a reduced weekly housing rate was available to employees that participated in a housing committee. Biltmore Co. offered the reduced rate – that qualified as an additional benefit – only to non-immigrant employees.”

 

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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