Los Angeles

SoCal Grocery Chain Cited for ‘Forcing People to Work While Sick With COVID,' Officials Say

An investigation found that "some workers were forced to work while sick, others were told to apply for unemployment while quarantining or in isolation, while others waited months to be paid,'' according to the Labor Commissioner's Office.

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Cans of Campbell’s soup are displayed on a shelf at a grocery store on June 05, 2019 in Richmond, California.

The California Labor Commissioner's Office announced Monday that it has cited a Southern California grocery chain for failing to pay or delaying supplemental paid sick leave to 240 workers affected by COVID-19 at 38 stores, including 21 stores in Los Angeles County and one in Anaheim.

Bodega Latina, which does business as El Super, was cited $1,164,500 after an investigation found that "some workers were forced to work while sick, others were told to apply for unemployment while quarantining or in isolation, while others waited months to be paid,'' according to the Labor Commissioner's Office.

Some sick workers were told that until they received their test results, they had to come into work even when they displayed COVID-19 symptoms, according to the office.

Those who needed to self-quarantine were told to apply for unemployment or disability to cover their isolation time, while others were denied time off to isolate when members of their household tested positive for COVID-19, according to the agency.

A spokesperson for El Super responded to say the chain denies all claims by the office, saying the claims are "without merit, baseless and irresponsible."

In July, the chain was cited by the Labor Commissioner's Office for similar violations affecting 95 workers at three stores in Los Angeles, Lynwood, and Victorville.

Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower said that following the July citations, "we heard from additional workers who had their sick leave denied or delayed. We broadened the scope of our investigation to capture as many workers impacted by these violations as possible and provide them what they are due.''

The FDA will now consider the panel’s recommendation before authorizing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

According to the Labor Commissioner's Office, the investigation began in September 2020 following complaints from workers and a referral from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents grocery store workers. The agency says workers were not consistently informed of their rights to supplemental paid sick leave if affected by COVID-19.

California's Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law, which expired Sept. 30, required that California workers at businesses with more than 25 workers be provided up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave if they are affected by COVID-19. The Labor Commissioner's Office says it continues to enforce the law for any violations that occurred between Jan. 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2021, the period the law covered.

Garcia-Brower said, "Supplemental paid sick leave is a tool to protect our communities by stopping the spread of COVID-19 through the workplace.''

El Super's spokesperson Eric W. Rose responded to the claims with the full statement below:

"The claims made by the California Labor Commissioner regarding supplemental paid sick leave (SPSL) are false. We are and have always been committed to complying with labor laws. In this digital age – when anybody can say anything, however untrue – trust and track record remain paramount. Our reputation and relationships with our valued employees are over two decades in the making, which is why our employees put their faith in us.

The citations which do not even explain the allegations are without merit, baseless and irresponsible. The Labor Commissioner ignores that we have paid over $1.6 million in COVID-19 leave to our valued employees. The citations and the Labor Commissioners' press release are rich in heated invective are not supported by the evidence, facts or the law.  

For over a year, we have attempted to work with the Labor Commissioner to provide proof of full compliance with SPSL. Our efforts have been ignored, and the latest citations border on frivolity.  It is unfortunate that, despite our good faith efforts to resolve these misunderstandings, the Labor Commissioner acted without completing their investigation.  We are confident that when all the facts are known, we will prevail in Court."

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