The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has issued a preliminary injunction against a Chesapeake home healthcare provider to prevent the employer from obstructing a U.S. Department of Labor investigation, retaliating against employees who cooperate with investigators and demanding kickbacks of back wages assessed by the department’s Wage and Hour Division.
The court’s action also requires Heavenly Hands Home Healthcare LLC to provide the department with payroll records – including time and attendance records from July 10, 2018 through the present – and provide notice to all employees regarding their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act, including their right to speak to investigators without repercussion. In addition, the employer may not ask current or former employees whether they spoke to the department’s representatives.
“Workers must feel empowered to step forward to complain whenever employers deny them wages they have earned – the law prohibits retaliation or intimidation for speaking up,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Roberto Melendez in Richmond, Virginia.
The injunction is the latest move by the department following the Wage and Hour Division’s determination that Heavenly Hands Home Healthcare denied its workers overtime payments and failed to maintain appropriate records of hours worked from at least July 10, 2019, through July 7, 2021. In response, the employer agreed to pay $413,382 back wages and liquidated damages to at least 37 employees and comply with the FLSA.
Heavenly Hands then submitted timely proof of payment of back wages and liquidated damages owed, which the employees purportedly signed. Further investigation found the employer had falsified employees’ signatures on official forms attesting to receipt of payment, failed to pay their employees back wages and liquidated damages, and forged payroll records to show proofs of payment. Investigators also learned the employer threatened employees and engaged in a campaign to dissuade them from speaking with the department’s representatives.
On June 1, 2022, the department initiated an enforcement action in federal court against Heavenly Hands and Lauren Wilson, its sole owner and operator. In its filing, the department asked the court to enforce the workers’ rights under the FLSA and to recover wages owed as a result of the employer’s failure to pay the wages owed to the workers properly. A motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was also filed to prohibit retaliation against current and former employees.
“This enforcement action should serve as a reminder to employers who disregard the law by shirking their obligations to pay employees their proper wages. Retaliation and intimidation against workers are wrong and they are unlawful,” said Regional Solicitor Oscar L. Hampton III in Philadelphia. “An employer cannot terminate or discriminate against an employee because they exercised their right to file a complaint, institute a proceeding under the Fair Labor Standards Act, or testify or agree to testify in any such proceeding against their employer. We will prosecute these cases to the full extent of the law.”
Lisa Smith, SPHR, SCP
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