In one of Southern California’s largest wage theft cases, the state labor commissioner has assessed a chain of assisted living homes $7 million in back wages and penalties for paying 149 workers as little as $2.40 an hour.
Adat Shalom Board and Care, which operates six homes in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of West Hills, required live-in caregivers to be on call 24 hours a day but did not grant them overtime or provide rest and meal breaks, according to the labor agency.
“Adult care facilities require caregivers to work around the clock, making workers in this industry vulnerable to wage theft and exploitation,” said Labor Commissioner Julie Su in announcing the case Tuesday.
“The live-in caregivers were responsible for monitoring and caring for elderly residents and hospice patients, many of them suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. The caregivers were paid fixed amounts ranging from $1,500 to $1,800 per month, or $2.40 to $2.88 per hour.”
Pay stubs withheld key information such as hourly rate of pay and the total number of hours worked, the agency reported.
The citations covered a period from July 2014 to July 2017, when California’s minimum wage ranged from $9 to $10.50 an hour.
On behalf of the chain, Encino attorney Patrick White said, “Adat Shalom vehemently denies that it violated any California wage and hour law. The audit conducted by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement is wrong. The company intends to appeal and vigorously fight the citation.”
Wage theft is rampant in the home-care industry, according to federal and state officials.
In 2015 and 2016, federal officials audited about 50 home-care companies in San Diego and Orange County, some serving the disabled, others serving the elderly. “Almost every single one we looked at had violations,” Rodolfo Cortez, director of the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division’s district office, reported at the time.
Many of the violators were small businesses with two or three homes. But in one 2016 case, federal officials assessed one of Orange County’s largest chains, Buena Park’s Elizabeth Homes Adult Residential Care, $227,000 in back wages and damages for 138 workers at its 18 homes.
The Adat Shalom investigation was launched after a complaint from the Los Angeles-based Pilipino Workers Center. The center runs a telephone hotline where employers and employees can ask questions or have their complaints referred to appropriate agencies.
Angelica Reingold, Adat Shalom’s owner, reached by telephone, said almost all of her workers are Filipino and a few are Latino.
About 70 percent of her patients, who live six to a home, are paid by the state of California through Medi-Cal’s Assisted Living Waiver program, she said. The program is designed to allow low-income seniors and disabled adults to live in home-like settings in residential care facilities rather than in nursing homes, many of which have incurred federal fines for avoidable accidents, neglect, mistreatment and bedsores.
Reingold declined to elaborate on the substance of the citations.
“The level of wage theft in the home-care industry is appalling,” said Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Center, which has referred about 100 cases involving some 500 workers to state and federal authorities since 2014.
Labor law violations are common both in residential homes and in staffing agencies that refer caregivers, some of which are owned by Filipinos who take advantage of immigrant networks, she said.
“Patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s often need to be turned every two hours to prevent bed sores, so caregivers working 24-hour shifts can’t get enough sleep,” said Soriano-Versoza. “They don’t have the energy they need which impacts the quality of care they give. And low wages stress them further which affects clients too.”
A 2015 California Supreme Court ruling may compel more home-care companies to beef up staffing, she said. The case was brought against Long Beach-based CPS Security Solutions, which required its construction site guards to be available through the night without paying them for the full shift. The court ruled that wages must be paid during on-call hours.
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