When Jeannie Ayer called the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division about potential violations committed by her employer, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She had worked for years as a home care worker for Your Comfort Zone Inc., a home care company operating in New Hampshire and Vermont that had been investigated twice before, with overtime violations found each time. Both Fair Labor Standards Act investigations found the employer paid employees straight-time rates for overtime hours.
During an investigation in 2018, we recovered more than $200 in back wages for Jeannie. But after she received those hard-earned wages, her employer allegedly asked her to return the money, also known as a kickback.
“I knew I was entitled to that money, but I needed my job even more,” she said. It’s a difficult situation that no worker should have to experience – depending on a job to make ends meet while fearing retaliation from an employer.
Jeannie felt confident calling us after obtaining employment with another home health care agency. “I decided to report my former employer because of how she treats people, and I didn’t want her to get away with it. Throughout the process, the Department of Labor’s employees – from the investigator to the attorneys – were respectful, and no one forgot about me.”
A consent judgment and order entered in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire required Your Comfort Zone to pay $50,000 in punitive damages to employees who suffered retaliation and permanently prohibits the employer from violating the FLSA’s anti-retaliation requirements.
As a result of our investigation and the court order, Jeannie received $10,000 in punitive damages because of the retaliation she experienced. In all, we’ve recovered more than $1 million in back wages and damages for home care workers at Your Comfort Zone from 2018 to 2023.
“I urge people not to sit back and be intimidated by an employer,” said Jeannie. “To the Wage and Hour Division staff: I owe you everything. I slept so much better knowing I could fix my car, get my glasses and heat my house during the winter. It has been the most unbelievable experience.”
Like Jeannie, we urge workers to contact us if they experience retaliation, harassment or intimidation from an employer – especially if the employer asks them to return wages they’ve earned. Kickbacks undermine workers’ dignity and give employers who engage in this illegal practice an unfair advantage over employers who pay employees in compliance with the law.
The Wage and Hour Division is here to protect workers from retaliation, regardless of where they’re from, and we can communicate with callers confidentially in more than 200 languages at 1-866-4-US-WAGE (487-9243).