$231,951 in Back Wages, Liquidated Damages and Civil Money Penalties Against Owner of Farm and Produce Company for FLSA Minimum Wage, Overtime and Record-Keeping Violations

 
Monday, November 5, 2012
 

Mahendra Raolii, the owner of Swash Farms Inc. and Jalaram Produce Inc. in Homestead, has agreed to pay $110,563 in back wages plus an additional equal amount in liquidated damages to 74 current and former employees. An investigation of the farm and packing operation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division disclosed significant violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions, as well as violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

Swash Farms Inc. produces okra and other vegetables. After being harvested, the vegetables are packed on-site by Jalaram Produce Inc., and then mixed with other imported vegetables and shipped for sale to various Indian food and other specialty grocery stores around the country.

Investigators first conducted surveillance of the operation, and then checked the number of workers and hours recorded on the payroll against the number of workers and hours observed. Because the employer refused to provide investigators with the records they requested, the department issued subpoenas to obtain the information. Ultimately, investigators determined that the employer failed to maintain accurate records of employees’ work hours and other required information, in violation of both the FLSA and the MSPA.

The investigation also disclosed that Swash Farms employees were paid hourly or “piece-rate” wages that fell below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour required by the FLSA. These employees worked an average of 50 hours per week performing physically demanding labor such as planting, cultivating and packaging vegetables. Additionally, employees were not paid overtime compensation for hours worked beyond 40 hours in a week, in violation of the FLSA. Additionally, thorough inspections of transportation, field sanitation facilities and employment practices disclosed the following MSPA violations: failing to disclose employment conditions to workers, pay wages when due and provide requisite wage statements, obtain prescribed insurance coverage for transportation vehicles, and put a poster up in a conspicuous place at the job site explaining workers’ rights and protections under the MSPA.

This investigation was conducted under a multiyear enforcement initiative aimed at strengthening compliance with labor laws in South Florida’s agricultural industry. The employer has been the subject of two previous Wage and Hour Division investigations, which disclosed similar FLSA and MSPA violations. Due to the willful and repeated nature of the most recent violations, the department has assessed $10,825 in civil money penalties.

The employer signed a settlement agreement with the department committing to future compliance and agreeing to pay all back wages, liquidated damages and civil money penalties owed.

The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Workers who are not employed in agriculture and are not otherwise exempt from overtime compensation are entitled to time and one-half their regular rates of pay for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. In general, “hours worked” includes all time an employee must be on duty, or on the employer’s premises or at any other prescribed place of work, from the beginning of the first principal work activity to the end of the last principal activity of the workday. Additionally, the law requires that accurate records of workers’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment be maintained. The law also prohibits employers from discharging or discriminating against an employee for filing a complaint or for cooperating in an investigation.

Most agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the MSPA, which provides additional protections for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping.

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