The U.S. Department of Labor has recovered more than $159,000 in back wages for 147 employees after a Florida produce packer denied overtime.
Investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division found that Ark Foods Group Inc. incorrectly claimed an agricultural exemption – for packing that happens on or near a farm that produces the harvest – and misclassified its employees as independent contractors as a result.
By doing so, Ark Foods failed to pay employees the time-and-a-half rate due for hours over 40 in a workweek, in violation of overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The division determined Ark Foods could not claim the exemption because the packing house does not meet the exemption’s requirements.
“Employers must comply with the legal requirements to claim an agricultural exemption. Ark Foods failed to do so and now must face and address the consequences,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Nicolas Ratmiroff in Tampa. “The Wage and Hour Division encourages workers and employers to reach out to us for help understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law.”
From November through May each year, workers at Ark Foods’ Immokalee location pack chili peppers and tomatoes for distribution to large grocery retailers. Founded in 2013, the company also operates packing houses in Hackensack, New Jersey, and Roebuck, South Carolina.