NANAKULI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A man who blew the whistle on illegal work conditions at his former workplace is now getting help and protection from the federal government.
The U.S. Department of Labor is suing Kazu Construction and its owner, Vernon Lowry, for $500,000 to cover unpaid back wages and damages.
The lawsuit claims the Nanakuli-based company improperly had workers put in long days but didn't give them time-and-a-half overtime pay. Instead, in slower weeks, the extra hours that had been banked were paid out at straight time.
Whistleblower Dennis Tadio said he'd put in 12-14 hour days, leaving before his family woke up and coming home after his kids were in bed, and wasn't compensated appropriately.
"It's not right," he said.
Since Tadio came forward, 16 more workers have made similar allegations against the Nanakuli-based contractor.
Federal attorneys said the case should be a teachable moment for employers and employeees.
They said many employees don't know their rights when it comes to pay and time-off rules and some bosses take advantage of that. That's why the federal government takes these cases seriously and goes after employers who break the law.
"All the employees and the employers get the opportunity to learn from each other," said Terence Trotter, district director of U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hours Division. "If this is a practice that's going on now, maybe others employers can self-correct and take necessary steps if they're also banking hours."
Authorities also stress that workers like Tadio will be protected if they come forward.
"If the employer violates the courts order to stop retaliating or threatening or trying to coerce employees into signing false statements, if the employer violates that court order, we can go back to the judge and ask the judge to put the employer in jail," said Susan Seletsky, chief counsel for Fair Labor Standards Act Litigation.
Tadio said the experience has taught him a lot, too, and he wants to encourage others in the same situation to come forward.
"If you know something's wrong, you need to come forward," he said. "They keep it confidential, I chose to be here and not to keep my identity a secret, that's just me, that's how I am."
Lowry did not respond to a request for comment.