Three hotels in Johnson City were among 35 franchised hotels and motels across Tennessee cited by the U.S. Department of Labor for various federal labor law violations, according to a DOL release.
The Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Motel 6, all in Johnson City, made the U.S. Labor Department’s list of those hotels that were found to be in noncompliance with minimum wage, overtime, or other labor laws in the Fair Labor Standards Act, the release said.
In fiscal year 2011, the department’s Wage and Hour Division found violations at the 35 hotel and motel franchise establishments in Tennessee. The employers were assessed $14,552 in civil money penalties for repeat FLSA and child labor violations, and back wages totaling $173,045 were recovered for 283 employees, the department said. Specific information on violations, fines or back pay for each hotel was not provided in the release.
Some of the common violations across the state have included “employers charging employees in excess of the reasonable cost of board and lodging, causing their wages to fall below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour; paying a flat salary or ‘straight time’ wages for all hours worked, without regard to overtime requirements; paying housekeepers by the room, which often has resulted in a rate of pay below the minimum wage for all of the hours that they worked; failing to pay for all hours worked by temporary help or workers hired through staffing companies who are jointly employed by the hotel; and misclassifying employees as independent contractors, consequently denying them the legal protections guaranteed under the FLSA,” the DOL said.
The violations were uncovered through a multiyear enforcement initiative focused on the hotel and motel industry in Tennessee, where the DOL said it “has found widespread noncompliance with the minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” Investigators are visiting hotels and motels in tourism areas to assess compliance among owners, management companies and staffing agencies. According to the DOL, when violations are found, the division will pursue corrective action — including litigation, civil money penalties and liquidated damages — to recover workers’ wages and ensure accountability under the law.
The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as well as time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked over 40 per week. In general, “hours worked” includes all time an employee must be on duty, or on the employer’s premises or at any other prescribed place of work, from the beginning of the first principal work activity to the end of the last principal activity of the workday. Additionally, the law requires that accurate records of employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment be maintained.
Holiday Inn Express general manager Noni Bakshi said she was aware the hotel was audited for compliance with labor laws, but said the issue, which arose from a misunderstanding, had been taken care of immediately.
Bakshi said she was not aware at one time that employees working six hours must receive a 30-minute break, as the hotel had been giving them 15-minute breaks. Since then, she said the issue has been corrected and she has paid the employees for the time worked.
“That might be the only reason we are on there, but it’s now cleared up. It’s happened with many hotels, they said, because it was not known to many hotels. That was a long time ago, so we should be clear,” Bakshi said. “Those laws have never been violated here. I always pay for all the employees’ hours. I am very particular about that.”