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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Silicon Valley firm fined for underpaying workers

A judge has ordered Bloom Energy Corp. to pay 14 Mexican workers nearly $64,000 for wage and hour violations. The green energy company, which manufactures solid oxide fuel cells, brought workers from Chihuahua, Mexico, to its Sunnyvale, Calif., plant to refurbish power generators. The workers came into the country on visitors' visas and were not authorized to work in the United States, but lack of proper work authorization was not the only issue.

Under both California and federal wage and hour laws, employers must pay workers at least the minimum wage for all hours worked. In California, the minimum wage is $8.00 per hour, higher than the $7.25 hourly rate required under federal law. Bloom did not pay either rate; instead, it paid the workers the equivalent of $2.66 an hour in pesos. The violations were deemed intentional, meaning the company was required to pay employees the $31,922 it owed in back wages plus the same amount for liquidated damages.

The Department of Labor told Bloom not to ship any goods made while the violations were occurring. The company has since paid the workers and agreed to remain in compliance going forward.

Enforcement actions are a powerful tool to ensure compliance with wage and hour laws. When a company is held accountable for wage and hour violations, more than just the workers' rights are protected. Law-abiding employers are no longer at an unfair disadvantage to an employer that isn't playing by the rules. Additionally, enforcement actions deter unlawful conduct by other employers. An experienced wage and hour dispute attorney can assist with an enforcement action against an employer that is not paying fair and lawful wages.

Source: CBS SF Bay Area, "Sunnyvale Green Energy Firm Fined For Underpaying Workers From Mexico," Feb. 4, 2013

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