Foster Farms and three temporary staffing agencies were fined a total of $3.8 million for failing to inform nearly 4,000 temporary workers of their COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave, California state officials said Tuesday.
Foster Farms, one of the West Coast’s largest poultry producers, along with Human Bees Inc., Viking Staffing CA LLC and Marcos Renteria Ag Services Inc., did not inform nearly 3,500 temporary workers who were hired to fill positions left empty by COVID-19 outbreaks that they were eligible to be paid if they or a family member contracted the coronavirus and were forced to miss work, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations.
A law that went into effect in April 2020 entitles full-time workers to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave. The law has been extended twice, with alterations, through September.
“Workers should not have to worry about financial hardship if they need to take care of themselves or a family member who is COVID positive,” Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower said in a release. “That’s what supplemental paid sick leave is for — it keeps sick workers at home and protects against the spread of COVID-19.”
The department did not say whether any of the temporary workers had contracted COVID-19 and missed work. Regardless, the $3.8 million in fines will be delivered to the workers.
The $20-million program is meant to assist farmworkers as climate change limits California’s growing seasons and water supply.
The citations are the result of an investigation launched in 2020 by the labor commissioner’s office into coronavirus outbreaks at a Foster Farms processing facility in Livingston in Merced County.
In August 2020, the facility closed after a two-month outbreak left eight people dead and nearly 14% of the 2,600 workers testing positive.
Officials alleged that the company had not completed widespread testing that was ordered by Merced County.
Foster Farms facilities in the state continued to experience outbreaks, and by year’s end, 12 workers, including nine from Livingston, had died.
In May 2020, Cal/OSHA proposed nearly $300,000 in fines for Foster Farms, Human Bees, Marcos Renteria Ag Services and two other staffing companies.
The investigation included audits of payroll records, which found that the staffing agencies had hired workers to fill spots but did not inform them of the paid leave, authorities said.
Officials said Foster Farms was equally responsible for the reported violation.
“Employers who contract with staffing agencies have a joint responsibility to protect the health of their workers,” García-Brower said. “Employers are obligated to ensure that employees are made aware of sick leave benefits intended to protect workers, their families and the public from the spread of COVID-19.”