By: Bruce E Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

Universal Cleaners LLC, a Traverse City, Michigan commercial cleaning company, failed to pay the legally required wages to its foreign workers employed under the H-2B visa program. Thus, it agreed to a consent decree before an U. Department of Labor administrative law judge. Through the consent decree/settlement agreement, the employer will pay $56,734 in back wages to 10 temporary foreign workers, who provided janitorial services and who the company paid less than the required prevailing wage rate. The agreement also required Universal Cleaners to pay $51,309 in civil money penalties.

A U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation previously determined, while the company shortchanged the workers’ wages, it also gave preferential treatment to these workers over U.S. workers. Specifically, Wage and Hour Division determined Universal Cleaners violated the H-2B Visa program when it:
  • Failed to advertise to U.S. workers that housing would be provided with this job.
  • Advertised to U.S. workers only that job applicants would have to submit to a drug test and meet filing requirements, but no employees were subject to those requirements.
  • Paid temporary foreign workers less than the required prevailing wage rate for janitorial work. The employer should have paid $12.56 per hour but instead paid $10.50 and $11.25 per hour.
  • Employed a temporary foreign worker to do landscaping, despite being hired to work as a janitor.
  • Failed to reimburse guest workers for their expenses traveling from and returning to their home countries, as required.
  • Applied for temporary foreign workers for employment from April 1 to November 30 but actually employed some workers outside of that period.
  • Failed to notify proper authorities of the separation of one of the temporary foreign workers.
The Wage and Hour Division also found Universal Cleaners violated the FLSA when they failed to pay one employee overtime at the legally required rate.

In addition to paying the penalties and back wages, Universal Cleaners agreed to use a controller to oversee all hiring, payroll and employment practices involving temporary foreign workers. The employer also hired legal counsel specializing in labor and employment law and business-related immigration matters to assist with the H-2B application process and compliance with the H-2B program and retain a third party to perform H-2B compliance audits. Future violations of the H-2B provisions could result in additional penalties and debarment from the program.

If you need assistance with your company’s immigration compliance issues, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.