According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “federal wage and hour investigators have seen corrupt employers try all kinds of scams to shortchange workers and to intimidate or retaliate against employees, but a northern California restaurant’s attempt to use an alleged priest to get employees to admit workplace ‘sins’ may be among the most shameless.”
Me? I haven’t seen anything this sacrilegious since Homer ate a god waffle that Marge dislodged from the Simpsons’ ceiling.
So how did the DOL learn about these coerced employee confessions? It started when the Wage and Hour Division investigated a taqueria and found that it had denied employees overtime pay for hours over 40 in a workweek, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. They also learned the employer paid managers from the employee tip pool illegally, threatened employees with retaliation and adverse immigration consequences for cooperating with the department, and fired one worker who they believed had complained to the department.
A lawsuit followed.
During litigation, an employee testified that the restaurant offered employees a person identified as a priest to hear confessions during work hours. The employee told the court the priest urged workers to “get the sins out” and asked employees if they had stolen from the employer, been late for work, had done anything to harm their employer, or had bad intentions toward their employer.
So the employer agreed to a consent judgment, in which the restaurant and its owners and operators agreed to pay $70,000 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages to 35 employees. Its owners also agreed to pay the department $5,000 in civil money penalties.
Getting back to the fake priest, Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin in San Francisco blasted the “employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages.”
Yep, this one checks all the boxes. And I will surely co-opt it at the next cocktail hour when people ask me what I do for a living.