DON’T DO THIS: Enslave an employee


Image by analogicus from Pixabay

Common sense dictates that, as human beings, we refrain from certain activities. For example, neither cuddling with a porcupine nor housebreaking a skunk are good ideas. You don’t need a lawyer to tell you that.

As an attorney, when my clients come to me for non-animal-related legal advice, I generally take the problem-solver approach. Consider my Twitter bio, “You know the scientist dork in the action movie, the one the government ignores? This employment lawyer helps proactive companies avoid the action sequence.

Usually, I try to achieve these results with a carrot rather than a stick. But, sometimes, I am the Harvester of Sorrow. Parenthetically, If I were a relief pitcher, Metallica would be my 9th inning intro music. Or possibly B.M.F. by Rick Ross. I’m undecided. Perhaps when I add another 60 mph to my fastball, I’ll lose sleep over this conundrum. Oh, where was I…

Other times, on my glass-half-empty days, I exhibit some of the traits of a stereotypical lawyer, casting gloom and doom by scaring clients with tales of what the law says they cannot do.

Admittedly, baring my teeth can be a guilty pleasure, like saying, “It depends.” So, indulge me for the next few days as I feature a series of blog posts in a new series I’m calling “DON’T DO THIS.”

Much of what I will share should seem obvious to you. Take, for example, today’s entry – “DON’T DO THIS: Enslave an employee.” I don’t remember studying for that topic on the bar exam. Perhaps, it was an SPHR topic. I don’t know. Either way, a former restaurant manager didn’t grasp the concept because he is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for forcing a man with intellectual disabilities to work more than 100 hours a week without pay.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s press release includes more chilling details:

According to the defendant’s plea colloquy and admissions in court, between 2009 and 2014, the defendant used violence and other coercive means to compel the victim to work for more than 100 hours a week for no pay at a restaurant managed by the defendant…. The defendant subjected the victim to physical and emotional abuse whenever the victim made a mistake or failed to work fast enough. The defendant beat the victim with a belt, fists, and pots and pans. On one occasion, he dipped metal tongs into hot grease and burned the victim’s neck. The defendant further yelled at the victim and used racial slurs to belittle and demean him. After a concerned resident notified state authorities of the defendant’s abuse, the victim was removed from the situation in October 2014.

The appellate court also cited testimony from the victim, “I felt like I was in prison. Most of the time I felt unsafe, like [my manager] could kill me if he wanted. . . . I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn’t think about how I could without being hurt.”

On top of serving a decade in prison, the district court ordered the manager to pay $272,952.96 in Fair Labor Standards Act violations.

Then, the appellate court remanded the case with instructions to double it because the district court did not assess liquidated damages on the unpaid wage-and-hour bill.

So, one of the takeaways here, other than don’t violate the 13th Amendment to the Constitution or otherwise resort to forced labor in violation of federal law, is that an FLSA violation will often result in an award of back pay plus an equal amount in liquidated damages. Then you have the individual liability. Under the FLSA, the definition of “employer” includes “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.”

What an all-around awful situation this restaurant manager created!

Sadly, I’ve set a high bar with the first installment of “Don’t Do This.” But, I’ve got three more days to go.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings…


“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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