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Wage theft from care providers: Workers sue for unpaid minimum and overtime wages

February 17, 2017: Michael Chapman cared deeply about his work providing care for people with physical and mental health disabilities in group homes. For more than seven years, he helped residents perform basic daily tasks like dressing and drove them to and from adult day care centers. Each Baltimore-area group home enabled four to nine people to live in their community with assistance.

Although Mr. Chapman enjoyed working with the residents, the hours were grueling. He alleges that he regularly worked a 72-hour weekend shift and often worked 12-hour overnight shifts on weeknights, too. He was the only care provider on duty during his shifts and was awake for most of the night. Worse yet, Mr. Chapman alleges that he was paid just $225 for each 72-hour shift—the equivalent of just $3.13 per hour—and his employers never paid an overtime rate for overtime hours. He also alleges that his employer at Uhh Wee, We Care Assisted Living threatened him with a criminal background check when he complained about his working conditions.  

In February, the Public Justice Center filed suit in federal court on behalf of Mr. Chapman and a coworker to recover thousands of dollars in wages they earned but were unlawfully denied. Litigation in the case is ongoing.

Wage theft from home care workers and care providers like Mr. Chapman is common in Maryland. Many employers intentionally misclassify their employees as independent contractors, telling them that this classification means that they are not entitled to minimum wage, overtime, workers’ compensation, and other basic employee protections. “Workers often don’t realize that even if their employer calls them an independent contractor, they may still have all the protections that employees have,” said David Rodwin, an attorney with the PJC. “We were especially troubled by Mr. Chapman’s allegation that his employer used a past mistake to take further advantage of him. We also often see situations where employers of undocumented workers fail to pay them all they’re owed, and then threaten them with a call to ICE if they complain. What Mr. Chapman’s case may show is that some employers do something similar with workers who have a prior conviction.”

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