This year, the Legislature passed the Wage Theft Transparency Act, which reversed a longstanding state law that did not allow the names of businesses that violated wages laws to become public. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the act into law in April.
The state denied a Denver media outlet’s request for a list of companies that committed wage theft from 2011 through March 2017.
The data show that nearly 130 employers across the state were ordered to pay employees $547,780 in back pay. An additional $170,750 was ordered in fines to the state.
In La Plata County, two businesses were listed:
The Palace Restaurant in Durango paid $1,153.84 in back pay and an additional $1,748.30 in penalties to an employee. All fines assessed to the state were waived because the restaurant paid the employee, a labor department spokeswoman said.The Adult Learning Center in Ignacio paid $478.54 in back pay and an additional $1,909.10 in penalties to an employee. A $350 “failure to pay” fee to the state was waived because the center did pay. However, the center was forced to pay a $250 fee for failure to respond to the state.Calls to the Adult Learning Center seeking comment were not returned.
Paul Gelose, who has owned the Palace Restaurant for 20 years, said a former manager/executive chef who no longer works there won the wage claim on a technicality.
“He took me,” Gelose said.
Gelose said he gave the manager a week’s paid vacation before he qualified for the benefit. Employees at the Palace are given benefits six months into their work tenure. This employee was at only five months, he said.
Gelose said when the employee returned from vacation, his work performance declined. The worker would claim he was sick, Gelose said, and he’d pay him for sick leave.
“He would work two days in a week, and I’d pay him for 50 (hours),” he said. “I was losing money.”
Gelose eventually fired the employee and decided to take back the pay for five to six days of paid vacation, which amounted to a little more than $1,150. The employee then filed the wage violation.
Gelose was told by state officials that had he taken back sick leave pay instead of vacation time, there would have been no violation of wage law, he said.
“Because it was a technicality, he won the case,” Gelose said. “It’s not always the employer. I’m the victim.”
Gelose said this incident was the only wage theft claim he’s had in two decades.
Several businesses and business leaders in Durango would not comment on the Wage Theft Transparency Act because they said they were not familiar with it.
Cher Haavind, director of the office of government policy and public relations for the labor department, said not all employers on the list were found to have knowingly and willingly violated the law.
“As an example, our investigation may have concluded that some may not have been aware of overtime, min wage law rules, etc.,” she wrote in an email. “I have been asking reporters to please use caution when using this data and not to portray them all as ‘bad actors,’ if you will.”
Calls to Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge, who spearheaded the transparency act, were not immediately returned Wednesday.
In an interview with the Denverite, she stressed the importance of making this information public.
“These companies, in theory, without this new law could continually commit wage theft and continually cheat and steal from their employees,” Danielson said. “This is the kind of legislation that will protect workers all across the state.”