The U.S. Department of Labor says that Manchester-based Chemro LLC, doing business as People’s Choice, must pay more than $68,000 for violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
According to a statement released by the DOL, the chain of pizza restaurants and its owner, Robert Y. Mercier II, must pay $26,575 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages to employees, as well as $14,000 in damages to a former employee who refused to provide false information to investigators from the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut entered a consent judgment ordering the company and its owner to comply with the FLSA and to refrain from discharging or discriminating against employees who initiate or cooperate with an FLSA investigation. They will also pay $1,168 in civil money penalties to the DOL.
The investigation found that the defendants allegedly violated the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping requirements between February 2013 and November 2015.
According to federal authorities, the defendants did not pay one-and-one-half their regular rates of pay to three employees who worked overtime hours of up to 75 hours per week and took payroll deductions for cash register shortages that resulted in one employee receiving less than the minimum wage.
The unpaid overtime for this period includes wages and damages that the defendants concealed from the Wage and Hour Division during a prior investigation in 2015. The previously hidden unpaid overtime dates back to February 2013.
The defendants also maintained and supplied false time and payroll records and statements to investigators during the current investigation and a prior investigation in 2015. The records included receipts that falsely stated that the employees received back wages.
Whether at the state or federal level, labor officials tend to be persistent.
"Whether you regard the Department of Labor as friend or foe, once they are examining your business, it's important to work cooperatively toward a satisfactory resolution," says CBIA HR Counsel Mark Soycher.
"Failure to fully resolve issues of interest to the Labor Department may be merely forestalling the inevitable. Whether at the state or federal level, labor officials tend to be persistent."
Investigators also found that between about December 2015 and April 2016, Mercier continually pressured one employee to make false statements to investigators, leading the employee to believe he had no choice but to resign.
In its complaint, the DOL charged that this behavior by the employer resulted in the worker’s constructive discharge, in violation of the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision, the first such claim made by the DOL in New England.
“Employers who knowingly violate or attempt to evade the law gain an unfair competitive advantage over responsible employers who honor their obligations,” said Wage and Hour’s Hartford District Director David Gerrain.