California businesses that rely on contractors to provide labor are held responsible when those contractors violate state labor laws. This means that they can be ordered to compensate workers who have been the victims of wage theft. On April 26, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office announced that three client employers and their owner have paid $1.47 million to compensate more than 300 workers who were underpaid by five Los Angeles area poultry processing facilities. The workers will receive the wages they were denied plus interest.
The underpaid workers were hired to remove the bones from chicken legs at poultry processing facilities in La Puente and East Los Angeles. According to the Labor Commissioner’s Office these workers were paid less than the California minimum wage, denied rest breaks required by state law and not properly compensated when they worked overtime. Investigators also discovered that the poultry processing facilities failed to obtain or maintain workers’ compensation coverage. The Bureau of Field Enforcement launched its investigation into the facilities after a worker filed a wage theft complaint in 2017.
The three client employers and their owner leased the processing facilities and provided them with chicken, but they did not hire workers directly. Instead, they hired contractors to operate the facilities. In 2018, the client employers were issued citations by the BOFE for wage and hour and workers’ compensation violations that occurred between 2015 and 2018. The client employers filed an appeal, but a hearings officer upheld the citations and ordered the client employers to pay $1.5 million. That money has now been paid, and the Commissioner’s Office is in the process of distributing it to the underpaid workers.
Workers must step forward
This settlement demonstrates that businesses in California can expect to be held responsible for wage theft even if they hire contractors to operate their facilities and manage their workforces. The investigation that led to this settlement was only launched after an underpaid worker complained, which shows how important it is for employees to step forward when they are not paid in accordance with state law.