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Lakewood car dealership Pine Belt Management recently settled allegations of violations of the New Jersey Family Leave Act. Another Lakewood company, Donald Drywall recently settled numerous allegations of wage and hour, earned sick leave, and employee misclassification violations.

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced that the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) has finalized consent decrees resulting in the recovery of a total of over $200,000 in relief in two cases alleging that employers violated the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA). The settlements resolve complaints that the former employers violated the NJFLA by terminating employees who requested leave to bond with their newborn children.

The NJFLA requires that certain employees be permitted to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave during any 24-month period to care for or bond with a newborn child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or in other specific circumstances.  The Act applies to employees who have worked at least 1,000 hours in the past 12 months and have been employed for at least one year either by state and local government agencies or by employers with 30 or more employees worldwide.

Under the consent decrees, the discount retailer Gabriel Brothers, d/b/a Gabe’s, has agreed to pay $113,500 in total relief to resolve a complaint alleging that a former employee was terminated for requesting NJFLA-protected leave. Pine Belt Management LLC, a car dealership located in Lakewood, has agreed to pay $105,000 in total relief to resolve a similar complaint from a former employee. Both employers have also agreed to ensure that all policies and decisions affecting employees comply with the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the NJFLA, and to refrain from taking any action or put any practices in place that discourage or impede an employee’s ability to take NJFLA leave to which they are legally entitled.

Pine Belt's consent decree arises from a complaint filed with DCR by a service advisor for Pine Belt.  The complainant alleged that Pine Belt denied him leave to which he was entitled under the NJFLA and then terminated him in retaliation for requesting it. In February 2018, the complainant requested intermittent leave to begin the next month, in anticipation of the birth of his child. However, the day after the complainant attempted to set his leave schedule with Pine Belt management, his employment was terminated.

DCR’s investigations found sufficient evidence that both companies failed to meet their obligations under the NJFLA.

Gabriel Brothers agreed to pay $113,500 in total relief. The company agreed to pay $66,000 to compensate the employee. They must also pay $44,000 in attorney’s fees and $3,500 to DCR.

Pine Belt agreed to pay a total of $105,000 in relief. Under the agreement, the former employee was awarded $67,000. Pine Belt will also pay $33,000 in attorney’s fees, and $5,000 to DCR.

In addition to the payments to the respective complainants and payments to DCR in lieu of penalty, each respondent also agreed to hold trainings on its NJFLA policy and the NJFLA for all individuals involved in the processing of leave requests.

This enforcement comes days after another Lakewood company received enforcement by another State agency.

The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) reached a first-of-its-kind enhanced compliance agreement with Donald Drywall, L.L.C. of Lakewood after investigators found the subcontractor had committed numerous wage and hour, earned sick leave, and employee misclassification violations.

The Wage and Hour Division found 48 misclassified employees working for Donald Drywall on a construction project in Hudson County. In addition to misclassifying employees, the subcontractor failed to pay employees minimum wage, failed to pay all wages owed, and failed to pay wages at least every two weeks, the investigation found. Some employees were being paid in cash and off the books, depriving them of safety-net employee benefits such as workers’ compensation, overtime, and more.

Donald Drywall was assessed to pay back wages, damages, penalties, and fees totaling $167,060.60.

A stop work order issued as a result of the violations brought construction to a halt for a week. During a subsequent hearing, the drywall installer agreed to a stringent enhanced compliance agreement. The agreement entails a three-year debarment from working on public construction contracts, the submission of payroll records for all its employees, and the implementation of compliance measures, including ensuring all its workers are correctly classified as employees, are paid on the books, and reported to State employment benefits and tax agencies. Additionally, the company will list each employee’s earned sick leave hours on their paystub so the employees are informed of their right to paid sick time and know how much sick time they have accrued and used.

March Associates Construction Inc. of Wayne is the general contractor and could be liable if a subcontractor fails to pay its assessment. The worksite, which is located at Riverbend District Block D, 1100 South Fifth St., Harrison, is being developed by Advance Realty Investors, doing business as Block D Partners Urban Renewal I, L.L.C.

NJDOL is committed to working with the construction industry to implement readily available business practices to ensure all drywall workers are being treated as employees in compliance with state law.

The Wage and Hour Division continues to make unannounced visits in various regions of the State, investigating drywall contractors performing work on high-profile, multi-unit residential construction projects. The Division plans to continue its work to change the culture within the construction industry that has led to frequent misclassification of workers.

Investigators have identified a pattern in which subcontractors performing drywall work often pay their workers off the books in violation of New Jersey law, and these cases often result in additional violations of state minimum wage and overtime, unemployment and temporary disability benefits, worker’s compensation, and tax laws. Importantly, misclassified workers are not at fault if their employer misclassifies them, and they are protected against retaliation if they report misclassification to NJDOL or cooperate in an investigation.

Employers who pay their workers off the books profit illegally at the expense of workers and communities, with an unfair competitive advantage over employers who do comply with the law. Construction businesses place themselves at risk of significant sanctions if workers on project sites are not treated as employees in compliance with state law.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I’m wondering if the employees that were paid off the books are required to pay money as well since both the employer and employee pay towards the tax liabilities. If the employer wasn’t withholding the money the employee technically was overpaid since they received the money that was supposed to be withheld for tax purposes.