A man moved to the U.S. to work as a registered nurse but resigned after several months over safety and ethical concerns about his “grueling” working conditions, federal officials said. His resignation came too early for Advanced Care Staffing LLC, a nursing agency based in Brooklyn, which requires employees to work for them for at least three years or forces them to repay all they’ve earned, according to officials. The company demanded Benzor Shem Vidal repay the money he made while working for them for nearly four months — plus more, a complaint filed in federal court on March 20 says.
Now, the U.S. Department of Labor is suing the company and CEO Sam Klein to stop it from making employees sign contracts requiring workers to stay for three years or give up their pay, the agency announced in a news release. “Federal law forbids employers from clawing back wages earned by employees, for employers’ own benefit,” Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said in a statement. McClatchy News contacted Advanced Care Staffing LLC for comment and didn’t receive a response. The company’s contracts forced some employees who worked for them less than three years to face private arbitration and pay the company’s “future profits, plus attorneys’ fees and arbitration costs,” officials said. They ended up being paid less than the federal minimum wage rate as a result, according to the DOL.
“Employers cannot use workers as insurance policies to unconditionally guarantee future profit streams,” Nanda said. “Nor can employers use arbitration agreements to shield unlawful practices.” Advanced Care Staffing LLC recruits employees and places them in health care jobs in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to the complaint.
‘CONTRACTS AND ARBITRATION DEMANDS HAVE A CHILLING EFFECT’
Advanced Care Staffing LLC recruited Vidal from the Philippines and presented him with a contract that said the company will recover “loss of anticipated profits” if he left before three years, the complaint says. At this point, Vidal had left a previous job and believed he “had no choice” but to sign the company’s contract, according to the complaint.
Afterward, he was placed at a Brooklyn nursing and rehabilitation center where he started work on March 8, 2022, before his resignation on June 29, 2022, the complaint says. During his employment, Vidal raised concerns about his working conditions to the company, as well as the nursing center, but they went unaddressed, according to officials. His concerns included how he was assigned more patients than he believed he could properly care for and conditions he felt went against his ethics, the complaint says.
When Vidal expressed his intention to resign, Advanced Care Staffing threatened him with arbitration, according to the complaint. The company warned him before he resigned that it would seek more than $24,000 from him, the complaint says. “ACS’s contracts and arbitration demands have a chilling effect on employees’ ability to exercise their rights, including the protection to be free from an unsafe or hazardous workplace, and to obtain the wages they are owed,” the DOL said in the release. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division continues to investigate the company, according to officials.
The lawsuit aims to recover back wages and liquidated damages for former employees who were made to give up their earned pay, officials said.