The sad reality is often that the workers who receive the least pay often do highly important work. It's also sad but true that workers at the bottom of the economic ladder are the most likely to be exploited and have the least opportunity to complain.
Hospital environmental services workers are an example. According to a recent class action lawsuit, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and its hospital services contractor, Xanitos, routinely denied their hospital services workers things that are guaranteed to them by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the California Labor Code.
How were the workers denied their due? Misclassification.
The way environmental services works at 13 Kaiser Foundation Hospitals in California is this. The worker is initially hired by Xanitos, who has a contract with Kaiser. However, according to the complaint, the workers are told that Kaiser controls the details of their employment, including discipline and termination.
This describes a relationship in which the workers are employees of Xanitos, who owes them all the protections of the FLSA and the California Labor Code. Kaiser is stepping out of its bounds as a contractor if it attempts to deal with the details of the workers' employment. When a company has that much control, the worker is generally considered an employee.
Amazingly, Xanitos typically classified these workers as independent contractors and Kaiser went along with it. That meant the workers were not entitled to the payment of payroll taxes, minimum wages, overtime, or even reimbursement for their uniforms. Xanitos didn't even try to keep track of all the hours they worked.
Later, when workers were later hired as employees, they were told they were exempt -- meaning they were not entitled to appropriate shifts, meal and rest breaks, or overtime pay.
Although the case seems a straightforward violation of California Labor Law, but the judge in the case praised the parties for agreeing to settle recently, calling it "a fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute."
Kaiser and Xanitos have agreed to pay the class of plaintiffs $500,000 and to pay back their unpaid payroll taxes. Further, they will receive $150,000 to pay their attorney's fees -- a crucial aspect of the settlement for workers who can't afford high fees. The lead plaintiff also received a $2,500 enhancement award.
If you work in an ordinary, workaday job and aren't in a union, you're almost certainly entitled to overtime pay and the other working conditions guaranteed by California law. If you're not receiving it, you deserve to know why. Please don't hesitate to contact an employment law attorney.