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Asbestos-abatement workers win big victory

September 19, 2013: Hundreds of asbestos-abatement workers won a big victory on Tuesday, when Magistrate Judge William Connelly of the U.S. District Court in Maryland approved a class-action settlement regarding compensation for mandatory job and safety training. As the workers’ counsel, the Public Justice Center and Murphy Anderson PLLC are pleased that the workers’ employer will have to reimburse workers for training and protective equipment for which they had forced workers to pay. 
In October 2012, three employees of WMS Solutions, an asbestos-abatement company employing hundreds of workers throughout the mid-Atlantic, filed suit under Maryland Wage and Hour Law, the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law and the Fair Labor Standards Act demanding that they be paid for time spent attending state-mandated initial and “refresher” abatement training courses. In addition, the employees demanded reimbursement of costs paid for the training programs themselves and for personal protective equipment necessary for abatement work. These costs were often deducted from paychecks without authorization or paid directly out-of-pocket by the workers. Such practices are especially egregious given that asbestos-abatement work is a dangerous occupation that is staffed largely by immigrant workers, many of them undocumented.
The settlement agreement, a result of months-long settlement negotiations, will provide approximately $200,000 in payments directly to at least 500 workers. More importantly, the employer, WMS Solutions, agreed to significant injunctive relief, including agreeing to compensate current employees for time spent in required asbestos abatement trainings, providing trainings and protective equipment at no cost to employees, and agreeing to a grievance procedure for any future violations. 
Refusing to compensate employees for their time spent in training - which is required by law and primarily benefits the employer - is an increasingly popular way for employers to cheat employees. As federal and state regulators mandate more and more health and safety training in various fields, employers are pushing the cost of the trainings and time spent in trainings to employees, particularly low-wage workers. Training, when it is for the benefit of the employer and not just career advancement for an individual worker, constitutes “work” and should be compensated. We are hopeful that this case will become part of a growing legal trend that more firmly establishes an employer’s responsibility for the compensability of training time.
We thank Mark Hanna, Joni Jacobs and Renee Gerni of Murphy Anderson PLLC for co-counseling this case with the Public Justice Center’s Sally Dworak-Fisher and Alexandra Rosenblatt through our Litigation Partnership.

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