A restaurant owner in California has been sentenced to two years of probation for failing to provide workers’ compensation coverage for his employees. At his trial, the jury also found that he had continued to operate his business after being issued a “stop work” order.
In July 2018, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office filed a criminal complaint against David Michael Bufano, operator and owner of the Grant Street Pub and Pizzeria in Concord in the Bay Area. The filing was the result of a joint operation between the Employment Development Department, the Department of Industrial Relations’ Labor Commissioner’s Office, and the District Attorney’s Office.
During the summer of 2018, agents from these departments carried out a series of surprise inspections in restaurants in the county. The restaurants targeted were under investigation for failing to provide workers’ compensation protection for their employees.
The Grant Street Pub and Pizzeria was cited on June 25 when it was found that Bufano employed at least 18 people, none of whom were covered. The Labor Commissioner issued the stop work order, effective until Bufano provided proof of workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Rather than provide that coverage, employees at the restaurant were back at work the next day in direct violation of the Labor Commissioner’s order. On June 27, Bufano was cited again by the Labor Commissioner and was given a fine totaling $6,000.
Bufano faced two misdemeanor counts at his trial. These included one count of Failure to Obtain Workers’ Compensation Insurance Coverage and one count of Failure to Observe Stop Order. Caleb Webster of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case. Webster is a member of the Workers’ Compensation Fraud Unit of the District Attorney’s Special Operation’s Division.
At sentencing, Bufano was fined a further $10,000 and given two years of court probation. The fine will be credited to the Uninsured Employer’s Fund.
“The jury verdict in this case underscores the importance we must place on actively protecting employees in the workplace,” said Webster. “All too often, employees first discover their employers lack the appropriate coverage after injuries occur and the employees are stuck with medical bills. Employers need to follow the law and protect their staff.”
According to California Labor Code section 3550, employers are required to post a notice in a clearly visible place in the workplace showing the current workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Employees in California are encouraged to check this notice or ask their manager for more details.
Employees who find their employers attempting to prevent them from filing worker’s compensation claims after there are injured should report this to the district attorney’s office. California Labor Code section 1102.5 prohibits employers from retaliating in any way against workers who report such violations.
“This conviction demonstrates that employers who cheat their workers—whether of wages or the protections of workers’ compensation—will not get away with it. The victims of such practices are not just working people but law-abiding employers, and we will do everything in our power to level the playing field,” said Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su.
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