CHICAGO – After failing to satisfy repeated requests to cooperate with investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, two business operators in Illinois and Minnesota must now answer to federal courts in Chicago and Minneapolis after the department filed petitions to enforce its administrative subpoenas for records.In the first instance, the department’s Office of the Solicitor in Chicago filed an action on Oct. 10, 2023, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, asking the court to force a Chicago Ridge bakery operated by ZMZM Sweet Inc. and owner Mohammad Abumoghli to provide requested records to division investigators as part of a Fair Labor Standards Act compliance investigation.“The Fair Labor Standards Act empowers the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate and obtain information about wages, hours and other employment practices and question employees to determine if an employer is complying with federal law,” explained Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri in Chicago. “Employers cannot choose whether or not they comply with administrative subpoenas issued by the department.” On Oct. 10, 2023, the same office filed a petition in the U.S. District Court of the District of Minnesota to force 19&75 Filling Station LLC in Ivanhoe to cooperate with the division’s investigation after the truck stop operator refused to provide requested records necessary for the division to determine the employer’s compliance with the FLSA. The action comes after the business’s owner, Martin Sterzinger, agreed to meet with investigators, later canceled the meeting, and has since refused to respond to the division. In addition, the employer ignored an administrative subpoena to produce requested records by Aug. 17, 2023.“In recent years, we have seen employers facing court costs and attorney’s fees only to learn our investigators found minor violations, if any, after courts forced them to cooperate,” said Wage and Hour Division Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri in Chicago. “Avoidance and delay tactics are poor substitutes for cooperating with Wage and Hour Division investigators or contacting us in advance for compliance assistance to ease their concerns.”The Wage and Hour Division chooses a business for compliance review based on factors that include those industries where violations are common, those that typically employ low-wage earning and vulnerable workers, and in response to complaints. Typically, wage compliance investigations review a two-year payroll period.“Employers can try to ignore or delay an investigation, but when they do, the department will seek a court order, if needed, to complete compliance reviews and make certain employees’ legal rights and protections are being respected,” Heri added.Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division and how to file an online complaint. For confidential compliance assistance, employees and employers can call the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), regardless of where they are from.Download the agency’s new Timesheet App for iOS and Android devices – also available in Spanish – to ensure hours and pay are accurate.
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