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Workplace Sins: US Restaurant Used Fake Priest in ‘shameless’ Wage Theft Scheme

California’s Taqueria Garibaldi fined for a host of alleged violations, including conducting ‘confessions’ on employees

A northern California restaurant chain will have to pay more than $140,000 in back pay after it ran a “shameless” wage theft scheme that involved a fake priest who had workers confess to any sins they committed while on the clock.

The owners and operators of Taqueria Garibaldi, a Sacramento-based restaurant chain, are also accused of threatening workers and fabricating timesheets as part of an effort to obstruct an investigation into the business. The US Department of Labor previously found that the company illegally denied workers overtime pay.

The labor department launched an investigation into Taqueria Garibaldi in 2021, at which point the business owners instructed employees to tell investigators that they worked 40 hours a week, were provided two days off and 30-minute breaks, and were paid only with checks, court records show.

Workers were also prohibited from using their usual digital attendance tracker and were instead told to write that they were only working 40-hour weeks on paper timesheets that were then processed by a third-party payroll company.

Employees did as they were told under threat of retaliatory actions such as firing and holding immigration statuses over their heads, according to the labor department.

“This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages,” Marc Pilotin, the labor department’s regional solicitor of labor, said in a press release.

In what the labor department described as “among the most shameless” efforts to intimidate workers that investigators have seen, the owners of Garibaldi also brought in a fake priest to conduct confession sessions with employees. Once employees sat with the “priest” they were peppered with work-specific questions and asked whether they had any ill feelings toward their employers or had spoken negatively about them to anyone, including investigators.

“Under oath, an employee of Taqueria Garibaldi explained how the restaurant offered a supposed priest to hear their workplace ‘sins’ while other employees reported that a manager falsely claimed that immigration issues would be raised by the department’s investigation,” Pilotin said.

After local reporters covered the labor department’s lawsuit against the restaurant chain in May 2021, the business fired Maria Parra, an employee who they believed had filed the original complaint to the labor department.

“First, Defendants fired Maria Parra for cooperating with the government and then used the firing to intimidate other employees,” court records stated.

In addition to paying back wages and damages to 35 workers and $5,000 to the Department of Labor, the owners and operators of Taqueria Garibaldi are also required to use a digital time clock system at each location that allows employees to accurately record their work times and must submit payroll and employee contact information to the labor department upon request for the next three years.

Source: The Guardian