Utah and Arizona Businesses to Pay $1.3 Million in Back Wages and Penalties for Misclassifying Employees as Independent Contractors

 
Friday, April 24, 2015
 

A nearly five-year federal investigation of illegal business practices by 16 defendants in Utah and Arizona has yielded $700,000 in back wages, damages, penalties and other guarantees for more than 1,000 construction industry workers in the Southwest. 

Consent judgments put an end to an effort by the defendants — operating collectively as CSG Workforce Partners, Universal Contracting, LLC and Arizona Tract/Arizona CLA — to claim that their workers were not employees. The defendants required the construction workers to become "member/owners" of limited liability companies, stripping them of federal and state protections that come with employee status. These construction workers were building houses in Utah and Arizona as employees one day and then the next day were performing the same work on the same job sites for the same companies but without the protection of federal and state wage and safety laws. The companies, in turn, avoided paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll taxes. 

A misclassified employee — with independent contractor or other non-employee status — lacks minimum wage, overtime, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, and other workplace protections. Employers often misclassify workers to reduce labor costs and avoid employment taxes. By not complying with the law, these employers have an unfair advantage over competitors who pay fair wages, taxes due, and ensure wage and other protections for their employees. These illegal practices lower standards for all workers, especially in highly competitive markets and industries where employers try to reduce overhead, often at the expense of their workers.

The consent judgments are the result of a combined effort of the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Utah. The investigation began in southern Utah and then moved to Arizona after the passage of state legislation in Utah that required LLCs to provide workers' compensation and unemployment insurance to their "members." To avoid legal jeopardy in Utah, the defendants moved their operations south to Arizona. 

Utah officials assisted the department by sharing information through the state's Worker Classification Coordinated Enforcement Council, an entity created by the state legislature to combat misclassification. Working together in the investigation and litigation, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Utah and the U.S. Department of Labor presented findings to federal courts in Utah and Arizona. The courts, in turn, approved consent judgments on April 21 against the above-named companies and their respective owners. 

The consent judgments require the defendants to:

  • Pay $600,000 in back wages and liquidated damages to employees in Utah and Arizona and an additional $100,000 in civil penalties; 
  • Stop using limited liability companies to avoid Fair Labor Standards Act compliance; 
  • Treat themselves as "employers" and their current and future workers as "employees" under the FLSA;
  • Comply with the FLSA's minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping, and anti-retaliation provisions; 
  • Pay all applicable federal, state and local taxes; and
  • Work with the department to identify those workers who were harmed by their misclassification scheme and determine proper individual payment of back wages. 

In a separate but related case, the department obtained a consent judgment against a major client of the Arizona defendants in this case. The judgement in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona against Paul Johnson Drywall, LLC, required the company to stop using the Arizona defendants' unlawful LLC business model and to pay $600,000 in back wages, liquidated damages and civil money penalties. 

The Wage and Hour Division has aggressively expanded its efforts to combat employee misclassification in sectors where workers are especially vulnerable and violations are rampant. The department currently has 20 Memoranda of Understanding with states, including the Utah Labor Commission, through which it collaborates with states agencies to combat misclassification. 

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates of pay, including commissions, bonuses, piece-rate earnings and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Additionally, the law requires that accurate records of employees' wages, hours and other conditions of employment be maintained.

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