Four employees of the Marengo Street McDonald's near Boyle Heights, which is operated by R&B Sanchez Inc., told their employer, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the Los Angeles County Health Department that they were worried they would be exposed to COVID-19 because of unsafe work conditions, according to a press release.
The employees had also participated in strikes over safety conditions at the restaurant and said they were fired shortly after. That's when they filed complaints with the state's Labor Commissioner's Office, according to the release.
"Too many workers fear retaliation if they report a problem or stand up for their rights," Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower said in a statement Wednesday. "California law has anti-retaliation protections in place that make it illegal for employers to punish workers for exercising their labor rights, such as reporting a workplace safety hazard."
"My office is committed to ensuring those laws are enforced," she said.
Contact information for R&B Sanchez Inc. was not immediately available Thursday.
The Labor Commissioner's Office said it issued citations totaling $125,913 in wages and penalties against the McDonald's franchisee. The citations also named owners Robert and Beverly Sanchez and Brian Sanchez, the franchisee human resources officer, as jointly and severally liable, according to the release.
The citations include $45,193 in lost wages, $720 in interest and $80,000 retaliation penalties under California labor law, the release states. R&B Sanchez was also ordered to reinstate the four employees, remove any negative references from their personnel files and post information about the citations and violations in the workplace, according to the commissioner's office.
The Labor Commissioner's Office is California's strong-arm enforcement agency for more than 45 labor laws that prohibit discrimination and retaliation, including Equal Pay Act violations. The office investigates workplace retaliation complaints, including for termination, suspension, transfer or demotion, reduction in pay or hours, and disciplinary actions or threats, according to the release.
Golden State lawmakers rolled out tougher worker protection rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and, this year, businesses have been scrambling to comply.
Passed in September, A.B. 685 sets out tougher COVID-19 reporting standards for employers than the current reporting guidelines outlined by the federal government, requiring them to notify potentially infected workers within one business day of their workplace exposure.
The bill, which took effect Jan. 1, also requires employers to have a disinfection safety plan on hand in case of a workplace outbreak. If three or more employees are infected, the new law requires businesses to report the outbreak to local health authorities, and it also gives the Cal/OSHA more authority to enforce compliance.
Meanwhile, A.B. 1867, which was also signed into law in September, requires employers with 500 or more California employees to provide supplemental paid sick leave to a worker who contracts COVID-19 if the employee can't work remotely.
Another new law, S.B. 1159, creates a presumption that an employee's COVID-19 illness is an occupational injury, qualifying the employee for workers' compensation benefits.
--Additional reporting by Danielle Nichole Smith, Dorothy Atkins and Vin Gurrieri. Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.
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