BusinessThe Putnam Examiner

Federal Court Forbids Putnam Nursery from Threatening Workers

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The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York last week issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting a Patterson nursery and garden supply business, and its president, from threatening its employees and obstructing a U.S. Department of Labor investigation.

In Nov. 2022, the department’s Wage and Hour Division began an investigation of Berkshire Nursery & Supply Corp. and Jesus Flores, its president, to ensure compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and the H-2A provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Over the next several weeks, the department alleged Flores harassed and intimidated employees repeatedly. He threatened workers and their families with physical harm, deportation and blacklisting. Flores also instructed them to lie and provide false information to division investigators.

In response, the department’s Office of the Solicitor obtained a temporary restraining order from the court on Jan. 18, 2023. The court’s order forbids Flores and Berkshire Nursery & Supply Corp. from, among other things, “harming and threatening harm, termination, blacklisting of future employment; contacting immigration authorities or other law enforcement; withholding wages or reducing hours; and intimidating, coercing, threatening or retaliating or discriminating against their employees in any other way to prevent or dissuade them from participating in the department’s investigation or in any other FLSA-protected activity.”

“The threats by Berkshire Nursery & Supply Corp. and its president to intimidate workers and obstruct the department’s investigation are illegal and reprehensible. Federal law protects workers’ rights to participate in an investigation without fear of threats to them and their families or other forms of reprisal. In cases like these, the U.S. Department of Labor will pursue every legal remedy to ensure workers feel safe to speak freely and truthfully with the department’s investigators,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey S. Rogoff in New York.

The court also requires the employers to read a statement describing employees’ FLSA rights during their paid working hours and in the presence of the defendants. Employers must also mail a written statement of the same to current and former employees.

“To determine an employer’s compliance with the law, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division must be able to gather information from the employer and employees. Employers who attempt to obstruct investigations or intimidate employees to stop their cooperation will not succeed,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Jay I. Rosenblum in Albany, New York.

The FLSA requires that most employees in the U.S. be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime pay at not less than time and one-half the required rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

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