All too often, when stories of employers who fail to pay overtime pop up in the media, the victims end up being workers in convalescent homes. It’s a sad state of affairs for the people who have chosen to work so hard toward the care of society’s elderly and vulnerable citizens. Stories abound of convalescent and other care workers being forced by employers to log long hours, being denied lawful rest breaks, and having overtime wages withheld or denied altogether.
Nursing Home Overtime Abuse Example
For an example of the issues workers face regarding overtime, one need look no further than last week’s superior court ruling involving five caregivers in a Northern California convalescent home.
In that case, the five workers went to the California Labor Commissioner with complaints that they had been withheld wages for overtime work. The workers argued they virtually worked 24-hours a day while covering evening shifts. The home’s owner, Lynn Ventura, who spoke to the Daily Republic, said the caregivers were free to do what they wanted during the time they were required to be on site and presumably not technically working. She argued that the workers held personal birthday parties and invited guests to the homes they were working in, presumably a justification for withholding overtime wages.
But a hearing officer at the Labor Commissioner’s office disagreed, and in February of 2017 ordered Ventura to pay the employees a total of $483,495. Ventura appealed the commissioner’s decision, which led to last week’s dismissal by a Solano Superior Court judge. The workers are now in a position to collect their lost wages.
Sadly however, the worker’s attorney Richard Taguinod, suggested the road to recovering the money could still be a difficult one. The process will involve going to the county sheriff and filing a writ of execution for levy of future income. That is not a fun process.
“The sheriff, in turn, will ask for her bank accounts of the care homes, and by law, we can only get 25 percent of the monthly income of the care homes until the caregivers all are paid the full amount of award due each of them,” Taguinod said.
Why Does This Happen So Often in Convalescent Homes?
Why this type of employment issue seems to be so prevalent in the nursing home care industry is a broad question, no doubt with several complex reasons. However, Taguinod noted that part of the reason could stem from the fact that so many immigrants seek employment in this particular industry. It’s no secret that immigrant communities are often targeted for financial and other crimes.
“Those most prone to abuse are the undocumented caregivers who do not have close friends or relatives they can seek shelter with if they decide to sue their employers,” Taguinod said.
He also suggested that many convalescent homeowners know what they’re doing when they deny their employees rightful wages.
“I almost want to believe that their mindset is that when they settle their cases with the caregivers, they can do so with a smaller amount than what they would have properly compensated them,” Taguinod said.
While Taguinod makes some good points about the sad state of employment in the care industry, rather than discourage workers, it should be a call to those who have been denied their rightful wages to fight back.
How to Get Unpaid Overtime
It’s important to remember that employment lawyers like Mr. Robertson in California typically take cases on contingency. This means they will usually examine a client’s case for free, and if a decision to file a lawsuit is made, the attorney won’t usually be paid until a settlement is reached. It is also totally free to contact the Labor Commissioner (commonly known as the “labor board”).
If you are an employee of a convalescent home or other health care facility, and have been denied proper overtime compensation, or have encountered some other workplace violation (denied rest breaks, patient safety, whistleblower retaliation, etc.) it might be well worth your time to contact a qualified employment attorney and determine whether or not you have a strong case.
A worker who wins a judgment against an employer could be eligible to recover back pay in addition to lost wages. In some rare cases, punitive damages, which are designed to prevent employers from engaging in certain behaviors in the future, may also be awarded.