The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan has ordered New Image Landscaping LLC and owner Jeremy Cizauskas to pay 32 former employees a total of $118,425 in back wages and damages, after a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation.

The Jenison, Michigan, employer denied landscape employees overtime after misclassifying them as independent contractors.

WHD investigators determined the employees did not meet the criteria for classification as independent contractors because Cizauskas exercised control over the work they accomplished, including scheduling and providing equipment, training and uniforms. The employer controlled pay rates and the hiring of employees working in his landscaping, lawn mowing and snow removal business.

The court agreed the workers were entitled to overtime and ordered the employer to pay $59,212 in overtime back wages and an additional, equal amount in liquidated damages.

WHD investigators found many of Cizauskas’ employees routinely worked in excess of 50 hours per week at a set hourly rate, and that the employer often failed to pay them for time that they worked when they missed their meal breaks.

“Employers must ensure that employees receive all the wages they have legally earned,” says Wage and Hour District Director Mary O’Rourke in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Simply because a pay practice appears to be common in an industry does not necessarily mean that it complies with the law. Employers have a responsibility to understand federal wage laws that are applicable to their business. The Wage and Hour Division offers multiple compliance assistance tools to help employers understand their responsibilities and legal obligations to their employees.”