The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered the owner of the Ocha Classic and Vim Restaurant chain to pay a fine of over $1.65 million for failing to pay the staff overtime. The Thai-restaurant chain owner, Prapai Boonyindee, not only failed to pay the staff for working overtime, he even forged fake documents that showed none of them worked extra hours.
The move was initiated following an investigation into the Los Angeles-based restaurant chain's payment practices. Results of the investigation were announced on January 3, 2023. They indicated that Boonyindee continuously denied workers the payment they were owed while willfully forging the documents to escape any legal action.
Boonyindee owns over six Thai restaurants called Ocha Classic and one named Vim in Panorama City, which are all located in the Los Angeles-area.
A total of 83 employees working at the chain have been putting in more than 40 hours per week while receiving no additional benefits in overtime for the last four years. The DOL estimated that the employees working across the company's seven sites have lost over $825,775 in overtime wages.
Following the investigation into Ocha Classic and Vim Restaurant, the Department of Labor issued a statement to the press. A spokesperson for the Department of Labor, Jessica Looman, said:
"Wage theft is used by unscrupulous restaurant-industry employers to increase their bottom lines at the expense of some of our nation's lowest-paid workers."
Briefing on the emphasis on maintaining workers' rights, Looman added:
"We work tirelessly to recover the hard-earned wages owed to workers like these, and employers who disregard workers' rights accountable for their illegal pay practices and their attempt to mislead our investigators."
What does it mean for the employees of the Ocha Classic and Vim Restaurant?
The $1.65 million fine on Prapai Boonyindee accounts for back wages and damage. All of these will be paid back to the Ocha Classic and Vim Restaurant employees by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The concerned payments will be sent to the employees of the Ocha Classic and Vim Restaurant in increments over a fixed period of time. The Assistant District Director of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, Eduardo Huerta, said that several of the payments have already been sent out, while the rest will be sent soon.
The DOL has also added another $62,167 fine on the Ocha Classic and Vim Restaurant owner for the 'willful nature of his violations'. The second fine is payable to the DOL and will serve as a lesson to employers who violate the laws and continue the wage theft crimes across the country.
Though the Ocha Classic and Vim Restaurant case is a win for the department and the affected employees, similar wage thefts happen all across the country throughout the year.
Even with the Department of Labor continuously working towards investigating all such cases to ensure the welfare of employees, wage theft and other crimes thrive successfully in all industries. While wage theft may be a criminal act in many states, guilty employers are rarely convicted or tried under criminal charges.