The Seattle Times recently reported on a 73-year-old Seattle man’s probation sentencing. Romulo Almeda Sr. was sentenced to probation for hiding and underpaying his live-in Filipina maid for four years. Probation seems rather lenient considering he underpaid her more than $90,000 over the four years she’s worked for him and his family; however, at the time of his sentencing and under the terms of his plea agreement, he had already repaid her the missing wages. Even though he repaid the woman, he will remain under probation for four years for his illegal employment and treatment of the woman.
The Filipina woman, who was not named in the article, came to the United States on a visitor-visa in 2005. She then worked for Almeda’s family for four years. Almeda and his family worked the woman for 12-16 hour a day, yet she received only about $400 a month for her services. The family had her doing everything from landscaping, to housekeeping, to preparing meals, to even caring for Almeda’s grandchildren. Furthermore, the family prevented her from having a social life, attending church, and deciding where she would live. The family actually moved the woman between their homes in California and Washington without consulting her.
The woman’s immigration status made it easier for the family to underpay and control her, particularly once her visa expired and the fear of deportation began. The woman was eventually able to escape her employer’s home through the help of a family friend living in the Seattle area and a local pastor in 2009. Once she was away from Almeda and his family, authorities were notified and Almeda was charged.
Regardless of an individual’s immigration status, if that individual is employed and the employer is doing business in the United States, state and federal employment laws apply to the employee and employer. This means that even if the employer is employing a person who is not authorized to work in the United States, the employer must still follow laws governing overtime pay, minimum wage, and domestic employment. Almeda may not have believed the laws applied to him since he considered the woman to be an adopted member of the family. But even if he did not believe the laws applied to him, they did and he appears to have ignored them all.
Some laws do only apply to employers with a qualifying number of employees. For instance, Washington’s Law Against Discrimination only applies to employers with eight or more employees, or the upcoming health care law which will only apply to businesses with 50 or more employees. However, federal and state minimum wage and overtime laws apply to all employers. Additionally, Washington law does not have a minimum employee number, but does limit the number of hours domestic employees can be required to work or be on-call for an employer to 60 hours a week.
Laws regarding employee pay, hours, and safety generally apply to all employers regardless of size. If you have concerns about your employment situation regarding wages or employment conditions, an experience Washington employment law attorney can help.