Source: U.S. Department of Labor/Facebook
In a story eerily reminiscent of nurses’ claims that hospital contracts are leaving them with $2,000+ bills if they quit early, a new lawsuit has emerged after a staffing agency tried to get a registered nurse to pay back all of his wages when he quit only four months into his contract.
Nurse Benzor Shem Vidal’s Story
According to the Miami Herald, RN Benzor Shem Vidal moved to the U.S. to work for Brooklyn-based Advanced Care Staffing LLC but put in his resignation after only a few months, citing safety and ethical concerns, along with “grueling” working conditions. However, the agency apparently has employees sign a contract that stipulates all employees must work for them for at least three years—or they have to pay back all of their earned wages.
After the company demanded Vidal pay back his wages, plus some additional costs, the U.S. Department of Labor got involved—and is now suing Advanced Care Staffing for illegal labor practices.
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The Lawsuit Against Advanced Care Staffing and Sam Klein
The Civil Action complaint filed on March 20, 2023, by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) was issued to both Advanced Care Staffing, LLC and Sam Klein, the CEO of the company, as an individual.
The lawsuit states that Klein and his company demonstrated “flagrant disregard” for Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations that require employers to pay “wages free and clear, not provisionally or subject to kickbacks.” Under the FLSA, employers cannot legally require employees to remain employed in order to get any earned wages.
But yet, Klein and his company still forced employees to sign a contract that stipulated they must work for at least three years full-time in order to keep the wages they earned during employment. If they quit at any time before their three years were up, the employee would be forced to pay back their wages, plus be liable for additional legal fees. In short, quitting early could mean that an employee might actually pay ACS more than they had initially earned during the time they were employed.
“Under this scheme, the pay that ACS promises its employees may be converted into nothing more than a loan that employees must repay with interest and fees, leaving some employees with no compensation at all, much less the wages required by the FLSA,” the lawsuit states.
And as the lawsuit revealed, ACS demanded that several employees pay back earnings they had made while working for the company and demanded that they pay back projected future earnings too. The lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Labor states:
“In at least some cases when employees have resigned during their three-year term of service, even after complaining of unsafe conditions, ACS has responded by hauling them into individual, private arbitrations, requiring that they improperly pay back tens of thousands of dollars, measured by the amount of future profits that ACS projected it would earn off of employees’ labor in future years (plus yet other costs ACS incurred).”
The lawsuit also alleges that ACS threatened employees that they would also have to pay lawyer and other legal fees—even for ACS’ lawyers—plus interest, if they quit and didn’t pay what they wanted. “Under this ‘loser pays’ ultimatum, ACS has pushed employees, and has threatened to push yet other employees, into arbitrations, where ACS can run up the bill of that expensive private forum,” the DOL wrote.
Recruited From The Philippines
The lawsuit appears to have come about after Vidal says ACS tried to get him to not only pay back his earnings during his months-long stint with ACS, but also tried to get him to pay back projected future earnings and legal fees.
The company recruited Vidal from the Philippines in order to work in the U.S. The lawsuit explains that Vidal had been waiting since 2019 to work with ACS, so when he was presented with a new contract from the company in 2021, he signed it.
The new contract, the lawsuit adds, changed some language the company had previously had about financial threats to employees. The new ACS contract stated that the employee could be responsible for “whatever damages are proven (which might be higher or lower than the amount specified in the older version).”
“Believing that he had no choice,” the lawsuit states, Vidal signed the 2022 contract. The new contract also stipulated that an employee’s “Good Faith” concern over patient safety or unsafe working conditions did not qualify as a reason for resignation.
ACS Allegedly Threatened Employees
Vidal began work at Downtown Brooklyn Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in early March of 2022 and expressed concerns about safety and violation of his own ethics to both ACS and the nursing home directly, but the lawsuit says his concerns were not addressed.
When he informed ACS he would be resigning in June of 2022, they followed up with emails detailing costs for future profits, paid-back earnings, and legal fees that exceeded $24,000–an amount that was more than he had even earned with the company.
The lawsuit summarizes that ACS is liable for:
Demanding employees “kick-back” wages
Threatening employees with legal fees and asking them to pay for projected future wages
Failing to pay Vidal overtime
ACS may now be also liable for lost wages Vidal has incurred as a result of his threats from ACS, as well as damages.
Response from Advanced Care Staffing
The Miami Herald reports that they did not get a response from ACS after reaching out and there is no public statement on their blog or social media accounts.
They also appear to still be actively recruiting employees, according to their careers page.
This is an ongoing story and Nurse.org will continue to post updates as it develops.