Protecting Essential Workers’ Rights: Four Stories

Whether it’s recovering $1,000 in overtime pay or $100,000 in damages, the mission of the Wage and Hour Division is the same: to help workers most vulnerable to labor violations, with a focus on those workers in essential occupations. We are committed to protecting and enhancing the welfare of all workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensuring that workers have the protections of fundamental laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Meet some essential workers we’ve assisted in the past year:

Left to Right: Angela Davis, Terri Roush, workers from Acadia Processors LLC, Josue Siqueira
Left to right: Angela Davis, Terri Roush, workers from Acadia Processors LLC, Josue Siqueira

Severance pay for Angela

Angela Davis was an employee of the Detroit Housing Commission, where she worked as district assistant manager for five years before being fired for taking job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Angela contacted our agency and once our investigation began, her employer was more cooperative.

After WHD investigators determined her former employer wrongfully terminated her, they reached a settlement agreement for severance pay totaling $10,576.92. Angela plans to use the severance to pay bills and add to her savings.

Taking care of Terri and other caregivers

Terri Roush worked as a home health aide at Christian Home Healthcare in Pittsburgh, performing essential duties such as cooking, cleaning, bathing, running errands and helping to feed her clients. She worked with multiple clients, sometimes seven days a week, up to 10 hours per day. She did this for more than three and a half years without receiving overtime pay required by the Fair Labor Standards Act for hours worked over 40 per week because her employer improperly classified her as an independent contractor.

Our investigation resulted in Christian Home Healthcare paying more than $1.6 million in back wages and damages to 546 employees, and Terri received $9,905.10. She told us she will be using the money to buy new beds and other necessities for her four children.

$138K+ in overtime wages for seafood industry workers

After conducting a whistleblower investigation involving Louisiana seafood-processing company Acadia Processors LLC, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration referred a case with potential overtime violations to the Wage and Hour Division’s New Orleans District Office.

We determined that the employer failed to pay accurate overtime to workers who were paid on a piece-rate basis, and also failed to include non-discretionary bonus payments in their calculations of the workers’ regular rate of pay as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Ultimately, the employer agreed to pay $138,629.84 in overtime wages to 100 workers.

$100K in Damages for Josue

Josue, an employee who worked for two Massachusetts construction contractors, was within his rights when he complained to his supervisor about not receiving required overtime pay and requested the wages he was due. But the two companies responded with a campaign of retaliation, pressuring him to withdraw his overtime complaint. They convinced other individuals to threaten Josue’s family, and told other employees they might lose their jobs because he complained about wage and hour violations.

Our investigators found that the contractors’ actions violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Labor Department went to court, and ultimately secured a judgment permanently enjoining JKA Construction Inc. of Watertown and Mendes Candido Framers Corp. of Hudson from retaliating against employees. Josue received a total of $100,000 in punitive damages.

Last year, the Wage and Hour Division recovered $230+ million back wages for more than 190,000 workers like these. We have a significant role to play in ending inequity and income disparity by protecting workers’ rights, restoring their hard-earned wages, preventing retaliation against workers who cooperate with our investigators, and ensuring minors are not exploited in the workplace.

Workers and employers can find more information on common wage and hour issues, or see how to file a complaint, by visiting our Essential Workers – Essential Protections webpage.


Jessica Looman is the acting administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. Follow the division on Twitter at @WHD_DOL.