The New York State Department of Labor recently fined Charles B. Park, the owner of Green Café in Ithaca, New York, one million dollars for failure to pay his workers at both Green Café and his New York City deli minimum wages and overtime, and regularly denying workers days off.
According to The Cornell Daily Sun and The Ithaca Journal, Anna Ottoson, a former cashier at Green Café, filed a complaint through the Tompkins County Worker’s Center with the Department of Labor after several back-of-the house workers, many of whom were undocumented Mexican busboys, complained that Park failed to compensate them for their hours worked and regularly denied them days off. Because the workers feared retaliation, no one reported this workplace abuse until Ms. Ottoson went to the Tompkins County Worker’s Center on behalf of her co-workers. After the Department of Labor conducted its investigation, it fined Park $623,000 for wage and hour violations at Green Café and $377,000 for violations at his New York City deli.
The Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law require employers to pay their employees a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and overtime pay for all the hours worked over forty in a workweek. Although some employers think that they do not need to pay undocumented workers correctly, the Courts have found that undocumented workers have the same rights under the FLSA as legal workers, and are entitled to compensation for their hours worked. Furthermore, employers cannot retaliate against employees who bring a claim against them.
The New York State Department of Labor has been active in prosecuting claims of labor law violations. Employers should be careful about how they pay their employees, including immigrant and undocumented workers; otherwise they also can face fines which, like the Green Café case, can include unpaid wages, interest, damages, and civil penalties.