The offices of Dario's Landscaping in Southampton.

The offices of Dario's Landscaping in Southampton. Credit: Tom Lambui

A Southampton landscaping business has been ordered to pay more than $1.1 million in back wages, damages and penalties after federal investigators found the company failed to pay workers overtime.

Dario’s Landscaping & Masonry Inc., which does business as Dario’s Landscaping, failed to pay 54 workers overtime pay over a three-year period, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Dario's employed the workers under the H-2B visa program, which allows businesses with temporary or seasonal needs to hire foreign workers for non-agricultural work on a short-term basis. The company also violated provisions of the visa program by interfering with the investigation, the labor department found.

“We have worked diligently with the Department of Labor to insure that our hard working employees are paid the proper wages to which they were entitled," company owner Ruben Dario Gracia  said in a statement sent to Newsday on Wednesday.

"While some unintentional mistakes were made, we have taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Dario Gracia said. 

The company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying workers overtime, and by providing false documentation to division investigators “to attempt covering up wage violations,” the Labor Department said in a news release.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the employer to pay nearly $485,000 in back wages and an equal amount in damages to the 54 impacted workers, the Labor Department said. Additionally, the company was ordered by an administrative law judge in late January to pay another $31,710 in back wages to 29 of the workers.

The company is also responsible for paying nearly $99,000 in civil penalties to the federal government for the combined violations. In total, Dario’s must pay $1.1 million, plus $12,000 in post-judgment interest.

Between October 2018 and October 2021, the division said the company did not pay H-2B workers their correct rate and “threatened that H-2B workers would not be re-hired” if they cooperated with Labor Department investigators. Workers were also coached to give false testimony, according to the release, amounting to violations of the H-2B program.

As a result of those violations, Dario’s is debarred from participating in the visa program for one year.

“Unfortunately, H-2B program workers are vulnerable to being shortchanged by employers,” David An, Wage and Hour Division district director in Westbury, said in a statement. “H-2B employers that willfully disregard the law could face debarment and costly penalties.”

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