A Minnesota landscaping company has been hit with civil penalties and forced to pay its employees back pay after a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) investigation found widespread breaches of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), including overtime violations, misclassification, and record keeping problems. Hawkins Tree and Landscaping Inc., based in Shakopee, was ordered to pay 57 current and former employees a total of $478,000 in back wages as well as $22,000 in civil money penalties.
According to the DOL, the landscaping company failed to pay workers for overtime work, did not provide accurate records of hours worked, and misclassified workers as independent contractors. The employees affected by the violations included laborers, drivers, crew leaders and foremen for the landscaping company. Hawkins Tree and Landscaping must henceforth have a certified public accountant conduct bi-annual audits of pay practices to guarantee compliance with the FLSA.
Misclassification is rampant in many industries around the United States. Workers are often classified as “independent contractors” instead of employees of a company, making them exempt from FLSA overtime protections and stripped of certain benefits. An employee is considered a worker that has the “right to control” what needs to be done and how it should be done while independent contractors are told what tasks need to be done and only determine how the task should be completed. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is federal legislation that establishes standards for overtime pay, minimum wage, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards. The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees at least the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25/hr) and overtime pay of one-and-one-half times the regular rate of pay for every hour worked over 40 in a single workweek.
The landscaping industry is often rife with FLSA violations as these workers are frequently vulnerable, immigrant, low-wage earners. The landscaping industry frequently improperly classifies workers as “exempt” and engages in other practices to prevent them from receiving overtime pay and other benefits. These practices strip employees of justly earned wages and their dignity as a worker. If you believe that you may be being misclassified or treated unfairly by your employer, contact an experienced overtime attorney to see if you might be eligible to receive back wages for unpaid overtime or underpayment.