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Update: Pleasanton care facility owner defends practice

Facilities ordered to pay $176K in unpaid back wages to live-in caregivers

The owner of a group of Pleasanton residential care facilities who was ordered to pay $176,000 in unpaid back wages to live-in caregivers this week said Wednesday that she had been following general industry practices and called for federal officials to do "more education rather than enforcement."

The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division on Tuesday announced that it had ordered the owners of Serene Care, a group of three residential care facilities in Pleasanton, to pay back wages and damages to a dozen live-in caregivers.

The department found in an investigation that the facilities paid employees a flat daily rate for eight hours of work that did not reflect the hours they actually worked.

The company did not pay overtime for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek, meaning that in practice employees made as little as $6.71 an hour, according to a department official. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Serene Care owner and operator Sara Solomon today said in a statement that the company, which she described as small and family-run, provides room and board to all caregivers and does not require them to work more than five days in a week unless in an emergency.

"We were following general industry practices, but we are now delighted that our caregivers have received what they are due," Solomon said. "Most of them have been with us for several of the 19 years we've served the Pleasanton elderly community -- and we are grateful that they are still with us."

"We only wish that the DOL did more education rather than enforcement -- so industry practices are aligned with relevant laws -- and we would have known sooner," Solomon said.

She noted that there are "inconsistencies in the law that make operating small family-run facilities difficult."

In an ongoing investigation over the past several years, the Wage and Hour Division has found Bay Area residential care facilities and nursing homes have underpaid more than 1,300 workers by millions of dollars.

Workers at some facilities the department has investigated were routinely asked to work 10 to 14 hour days, six days a week, but only paid for eight hours a day or a flat weekly salary regardless of the hours worked, DOL officials said.

In some cases workers were required to stay on-site overnight, but not paid for on-call time and not provided a place to sleep other than the floor during those times, department officials said.

"Workers who provide for our loved ones around-the-clock at residential care facilities deserve to be compensated fairly and lawfully," Susana Blanco, district manager of the department's Wage and Hour Division office in San Francisco, said in a statement Tuesday. "These employees will now receive the hard-earned wages owed to them."

"Other employers in this industry, who may be shortchanging their workers in this way, should take note and take corrective action immediately," Blanco said.

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