A Palmetto company claimed an exemption that would’ve allowed it to avoid paying some of its tomato packers overtime. Instead, the company wound up paying $87,920 in make-good wages to 109 workers, the Department of Labor has announced.
Utopia Fresh South, doing business as Taylor & Fulton Packing, claimed an agricultural exemption that would’ve applied to employees growing, processing or packing tomatoes grown by Utopia Fresh South. But that wasn’t the situation at the company run by Brian Turner.
“Investigators determined that the employer purchased tomatoes from multiple growers not owned by Taylor & Fulton and repacked them,” the Department of Labor stated in its announcement. “Once employees were packing goods brought in from other suppliers, the exemption did not apply, and they were due overtime.”
An attorney for Utopia Fresh/Taylor & Fulton wrote in an email to the Miami Herald that the company wasn’t attempting to exploit a loophole, “Rather, the OT issue was the result of a former supervisor inadvertently failing to track packing hours for tomatoes from other growers separate from the hours for packing its own tomatoes.”
The Department of Labor also stated, “The employer also failed to maintain records of the number of hours employees worked, as required by the (Fair Labor Standards Act).”