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El Super grocery chain fined more than $1.1 million for COVID sick leave violations

The El Super supermarket chain has been fined more than $1.1 million by the California labor commissioner for allegedly failing to comply with state COVID-19 sick leave requirements.

An investigation by the commissioner’s office 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.”

The alleged violations affected 240 workers at 38 of the Latino supermarket’s locations, including 21 in Los Angeles County and one in Anaheim.

The commissioner levied the $1.16-million fine against Bodega Latina Corp., which does business as El Super, on Tuesday.

In July, the commissioner fined the chain more than $447,000 for similar violations.

The 2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law was intended not only to protect workers but to protect communities by “stopping the spread of COVID-19 through the workplace,” said a statement from Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower.

In a statement Tuesday, El Super spokesperson Eric Rose called the allegations “without merit, baseless and irresponsible.”

“We are and have always been committed to complying with labor laws,” Rose said. “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.”

Rose said that the company has paid $1.6 million in COVID-19 leave to employees and that its efforts to prove compliance have been ignored.

State officials said they opened the investigation into the company Sept. 9, 2020, after receiving complaints from workers and a referral from a labor union.

Investigators found that employees were not consistently informed of their rights to supplemental paid sick leave and that some workers with COVID-19 symptoms were told to come to work until receiving test results, the commissioner’s office said.

Additionally, some workers were told to apply for unemployment or disability, while others were denied time off to isolate when members of their household tested positive. Some were never paid for their time off due to COVID-19, officials said.

After issuing the original citation in July, officials heard from additional El Super workers whose sick leave was denied or delayed, according García-Brower’s statement.

“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,” she said.

The law required employers with 26 or more employees to provide workers up to 80 hours of supplemented paid sick leave for coronavirus-related reasons.

It went into effect in March, after a previous state measure expired, applying retroactively to Jan. 1 and expiring Sept. 30.

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