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February 25, 2014
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Aspen Skiing Co., 38 businesses must pay back wages

Aspen Skiing Co. was among 39 businesses in Aspen and Snowmass Village that have agreed to pay back wages and liquidated damages after an extensive investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The agency announced Monday that Skico will pay $108,796 to 300 employees. They include servers, cooks, housekeepers, sales people, reservationists and administrative staff, according to Juan Rodriguez, deputy regional director of the labor department’s Office of Public Affairs in Dallas.

The labor department conducted an extensive audit from Jan. 13, 2011 to Jan. 12, 2013 and found violations of the minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the agency said in an interview and a statement.

The labor department said the Aspen hospitality industry was specifically targeted by the “enforcement initiative.” A total of 45 businesses were audited, most of them in the restaurant industry. No violations were found among six of the businesses.

The audits resulted in about $500,000 in back wages for 1,000 employees among the 39 businesses, the labor department’s statement said. Skico was singled out for paying liquidated damages. No amounts for back wages or liquidated damages were reported for any other company. The labor department supplied a list of the other companies that were audited when it was requested, but its database was incomplete on the enforcement actions.

Department surprises Skico

Skico officials were told by the labor department that the agency was going to work jointly with the company on a statement, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. The company was surprised Monday when the labor department released a unilateral statement.

“We accept responsibility, and we are pleased this issue is resolved, and the payments are now in the hands of our employees,” Skico said in a statement.

The company said its “fines” accounted for about 10 percent of the total fines generated by the labor department’s audits. Hanle amplified on that point by saying labor department officials told Skico representatives that the total back wages and liquidated damages paid by 39 Aspen and Snowmass Village businesses totaled $1.2 million. That couldn’t be verified immediately with the labor department.

Skico’s statement also said the labor department was complimentary of Skico’s efforts on tracking overtime and wages for its 3,400 peak season employees.

“At the conclusion of their audit, DOL representatives thanked ASC for cooperating and told us that this audit turned up a ‘surprisingly small amount’ of back wages and fines given our company’s size and complexity,” Skico’s statement said.

Skico: We pay overtime

Skico said it paid overtime to its employees but “not exactly as prescribed” by the labor department. Skico uses software by an established firm called PeopleSoft. The ways employees were paid on a commission or a tipped basis were not fully in compliance with labor department requirements, Skico’s statement said.

“We paid everyone overtime that we felt was due overtime given the software we are using,” Hanle said.

Skico worked with the labor department to recalculate overtime pay and issued checks to the affected employees and former employees. “The total payments by ASC were less than 0.001 percent of total payroll, and average checks to employees and former employees were less than $350 over a two year audit period,” the company’s statement said.

Skico said it paid a small penalty after an exhaustive audit resulted in a relatively minor correction.

Aspen specifically targeted

Aspen was the only Colorado resort town targeted by an investigation in the labor department’s fiscal year 2013, according to Rodriguez. Vail-area businesses were targeted in prior years, he said.

The statement issued by the labor department clearly used Aspen Skiing Co. to make a statement about the overall investigation.

“Aspen Skiing Co. is one of the largest employers in this area. It employs thousands of workers and contracts with several local businesses to run this large-scale ski resort. Making sure this resort follows the law is good for its workers and for promoting responsible business practices,” regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest Cynthia Watson said in the prepared statement. “We are pleased that Aspen Skiing Co. workers will be paid all that is owed them for their hard work, and the company’s customers will know they are doing business with an employer that is committed to treating its workers fairly.”

To avoid future violations, Skico has agreed to update its company handbook and provide training to managers on the Fair Labor Standards Act. It also agreed to hire a third party to make sure that all employees who are classified as exempt from overtime pay are classified properly and compensated.

Several restaurants snared

The labor department said, “many labor violations were uncovered among area restaurants” by its audit.

“Wage violations found as a result of the initiative include paying restaurant employees straight time for all hours worked rather than time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 per week; failing to pay proper overtime premiums to tipped employees and nonexempt salaried employees; making illegal deductions from workers’ pay for uniforms that resulted in minimum-wage violations; failing to post required information to inform workers of their rights under the FLSA; and failing to maintain accurate time and payroll records.”

The agency didn’t detail which businesses allegedly committed which infractions. All but 11 of the 39 businesses that the labor department targeted in the audit were restaurants.

“We accept responsibility, and we are pleased this issue is resolved, and the payments are now in the hands of our employees.”
Aspen Skiing Co. statement

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The Aspen Times Updated Feb 24, 2014 10:01PM Published Feb 26, 2014 05:09PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.