Tag Archives: us department of labor

Current Challenges To Pre-Hire Screening Procedures

The consent decree between the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program and Leprino Foods Inc., resolving charges of systemic hiring discrimination at the company’s Lemoore West facility and signed recently by a Labor Department administrative law, highlights the growing aggressiveness of the Labor Department in challenging employment screening practices.

The Leprino Foods case highlights the advisability of businesses judiciously determining and documenting in advance the valid business justification for employment screening procedures such as pre-employment tests and background screening and taking other steps to position themselves to defend their procedures for credentialing workers against possible employment discrimination claims.

Denver-based and one of the largest producers of mozzarella cheese in the world Leprino Foods has received contracts totaling nearly $50 million from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency to provide mozzarella and other dairy products to the federal government since 2005.

The Leprino Foods consent decree settles OFCCP’s allegations that Leprino Foods’ use of a pre-employment test called WorkKeys to select hires for on-call laborer positions illegally discriminated against discrimination against African-American job applicants and applicants of Asian and Hispanic descent.

OFCCP charged Leprino Foods violated Executive Order 11246, which prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the bases of race, color, religion, sex and national origin in their employment practices. The agency made its findings after a scheduled compliance review in which OFCCP investigators conducted interviews, analyzed company data and reviewed documents provided by the company. Through this review, OFCCP discovered that the administration of the WorkKeys exam had an adverse impact on minority job applicants for these specific positions. The agency also found that the exam was not job-related, as it tested applicants’ skills in mathematics, locating information and observation — skills that the OFCCP felt were not critical to the entry-level tasks performed by on-call laborers, such as inspecting products, monitoring equipment and maintaining sanitation at the facility.

Under the terms of the consent decree, Leprino will pay $550,000 in back wages, interest and benefits to 253 minority workers who were rejected for on-call laborer positions between January 2005 and October 2006 because they failed the WorkKeys exam. Additionally, the company has agreed to discontinue use of the test for this purpose, hire at least 13 of the original class members, undertake extensive self-monitoring measures and immediately correct any discriminatory practices.

The settlement reminds business leaders of the growing aggressiveness by the Obama Administration in challenging a broad range of pre-hire screening procedures such as pre-employment skills and other testing, background checks or the like. In the face of these enforcement activities, businesses desiring to use these or other screening procedures should take steps to position themselves to defend against likely challenges and scrutiny. As part of these efforts, businesses should exercise care to conduct and retain carefully conducted and well documented analysis of the legitimate business justification for their use of tests, background checks or other credentialing procedures. This analysis and documentation should be conducted prior to the implementation and use of these procedures to minimize the likelihood that the “after acquired evidence rule” or other similar arguments might be used to undermine the admissibility and effectiveness of these business justification arguments. Businesses also should implement procedures to monitor for potential evidence of adverse impact or other improper bias against candidates in protected employment classes by the tests themselves or in their administration and implement well-documented processes to control for such bias.

Record $2.3 Million+ Backpay Order

Shows Underpaying Or Violating Other Rules For Employing Foreign Workers Risky Business

Underpaying and failing to meet other H-2A visa program requirements for its employment of temporary foreign agricultural workers was an extremely costly mistake for Yerington, Nevada-based onion grower Peri & Sons.

Under a consent order entered by U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Steven Berlin in San Francisco, Peri & Sons must pay a record total of $2,338,700 in back wages to 1,365 workers, plus a $500,000 civil money penalty to the Department of Labor for failing to properly pay foreign agricultural workers working under the H-2A visa program.

The consent order announced by the Labor Department Wage and Hour Division on July 10, 2012 reminds U.S. businesses of the need to meet compliance responsibilities when employing foreign workers and illustrates the significant risks that employers of foreign workers risk by failing to meet minimum wage and hour, overtime and other requirements for the employment of foreign workers.

The record back pay order stems from charges brought by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division after it determined that Peri & Sons violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and the H-2A visa program requirements by underpaying H-2A employees involved in irrigation, harvesting, packing and shipping of onions sold in grocery stores nationwide.

All of the affected workers came to the U.S. from Mexico under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. In most cases, their earnings fell below the hourly wage required by the program, as well as below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for a brief period of time. Investigators also found that workers were not paid for time spent in mandatory pesticide training or reimbursed for subsistence expenses while traveling to and from the U.S. Additionally, Peri & Sons did not pay the worker’s return transportation costs at the end of the contract period.

The H-2A temporary agricultural worker program permits agricultural employers who expect a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the United States to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work. The employer must file an application stating that a sufficient number of domestic workers are not available and the employment of these workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed workers in the U.S.

Employers using the H-2A program also must meet a number of specific conditions relating to recruitment, wages, housing, meals and transportation. See more on H-2A visa employment rules here.

Reflective of the Obama Administration’s heavy emphasis on the enforcement of wage and hour and other laws protective of workers, the Peri & Sons order shows the potential risks that employers run when violating these rules.

To minimize these exposures, employers of H-2A or other workers employed under special visa programs should carefully manage these programs to ensure their ability to demonstrate compliance with all requirements of the visa program, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and other relevant laws.

These programs should include careful and ongoing due diligence to maintain a current understanding of all applicable requirements for the legal employment of these workers and the establishment of systemized processes and documentation, both to maintain compliance and to preserve evidence necessary to demonstrate this compliance against possible investigations or charges.