Falling afoul of California’s wage and hour laws can be costly. On Dec. 19, the Labor Commissioner’s Office announced that a Bakersfield construction company has paid more than $1.3 million to compensate workers who were cheated out of their wages while employed on a public works project in Kern County. An investigation launched in February 2019 uncovered falsified documents and evidence of rampant wage theft, but the company will pay no liquidated damages because the full amount assessed by the Labor Commissioner’s Office was paid in a timely manner.
Paid in cash
These events unfolded while 66 apartments were being built for farmworkers in Wasco. The construction company was hired as a subcontractor on a project to provide siding installers and carpenters. A California wage and hour law requires workers on public works projects to be paid the prevailing wage as calculated by the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations. Investigators discovered that one of the subcontractor’s crew leaders skirted the rules by collecting 27 workers’ paychecks and then signing and cashing them. The workers were then paid in cash at a much lower pay rate.
The investigation that discovered the scheme was launched after a worker complained about being underpaid. In addition to widespread wage theft, investigators found falsified paychecks, paystubs and payroll reports. The Labor Commissioner’s Office cited the company in June 2020, and a hearing was held to review the assessment in May 2021. The outcome of the review was upheld by the Department of Industrial Relations, and a judgement for the final assessment of $1,331,682 was entered in August 2022.
Workers should not remain silent
The kind of wage and hour violations discovered in this case are shockingly common in many industries. This company was held accountable while so many other offenders go unpunished because a worker stepped forward and filed a complaint. State agencies like the Labor Commissioner’s Office have formidable power, but they require evidence to launch investigations. If workers want to make wage theft a relic of the past, all they have to do is speak up.