Judge upholds Labor Department findings that Georgia nursery 29 favored foreign workers over U.S. workers;  Providing unsafe accommodation

Pure Beauty Farms Inc. will pay $200,000 in penalties and back wages to resolve H-2A violations

ATLANTA – An administrative law judge has issued a consent order after a US Department of Labor An investigation found that a Miami nursery gave foreign visa workers preferential treatment over U.S. workers and housed workers in the United Statessafe and unhealthy conditions in Greensboro, Georgia.

The action of the department Office of Administrative Judge counters Pure Beauty Farms Inc.'s attempt to challenge an investigation by the department's Wage and Hour Division that discovered several violations of the Federal H-2A program The allows U.S. agricultural employers to temporarily hire foreign workers to meet labor needs when U.S. workers cannot fill positions.

Pure Beauty Farms grows more than 1,000 different plant varieties in Greensboro and Houston and supplies major retailers such as Home Depot and other independent garden centers and retailers, as well as landscapers and theme parks in eight states, including Alabama. Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

The department's investigations revealed the following about the employer:

  • Provided preferential treatment to H-2A program employees by requiring U.S. applicants to have certain preschool work experience and provide references, which is not required for foreign employees. The employer then rejected 29 U.S. applicants, including several who had previously held the same job for Pure Beauty.
  • The requirements of the work order were not met because the actual terms of the contract were not specified and the address of the workers' housing camp was not disclosed.
  • Failed to provide copies of the Georgia employment agreement to two employees.
  • Excluded work hours and the federal tax identification number required on pay stubs.
  • Providing housing that violates safety and health requirements. Investigators found living quarters with excessive trash, fire alarms without batteries, water and mold damage, floors with holes, unclean toilets and food storage, and a lack of adequate lighting.

To address the H-2A violations, the agency imposed $182,811 in penalties against Pure Beauty Farms and required the employer to enter a consent judgment. The agreement requires the employer to comply with the H-2A regulations in the future, including monitoring by an independent third-party consultant to monitor and audit all H-2A employment agreements and Pure Beauty's H-2A activities for a period of three years. The department also recovered $17,651 in back wages that investigators said was owed to a worker.

“Retailers and consumers may be alarmed to learn how some agricultural employers treat the people whose hard work produces the products they buy,” said Steven Salazar, director of the Atlanta Wage and Hour Division. “The federal H-2A program is designed to help employers fill agricultural industry jobs when they cannot find U.S. workers. All too often, our investigators uncover violations and abuses and find that U.S. workers have been illegally passed over in the recruiting and hiring process.”

“In this case, we also found that the employer housed the workers in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, which is unacceptable and resulted in significant penalties for Pure Beauty Farms,” Salazar added. “It is clear that the consequences of breaking the law can be very costly. We encourage employers to reach out to us with questions and seek assistance to prevent violations.”

The department offers several compliance support resources, including an Agriculture Compliance Support Toolkit, to provide employers with the information they need to comply with the law.

For more information about the FLSA and other employee rights enforced by the Department, call the toll-free hotline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Workers can confidentially call the Wage and Hour Department with questions regardless of where they are from, and the department can speak to callers in more than 200 languages. Ensure hours worked and pay are accurate by downloading the department's free timesheet app for Android and iOS, also available in Spanish.