A federal complaint has been filed in court against Crystal Lake-based Red Oak Tree Service, Inc. for allegedly underpaying nearly 30 workers for overtime. | Photo: Google Street View

A federal agency has filed a lawsuit against a tree removal and landscaping business in Crystal Lake alleging its owner owes employees nearly $1 million in overtime backpay.

The United States Department of Labor (DOL) filed the lawsuit on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Western Division.

The complaint was filed following an investigation by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division.

Investigators said that Red Oak Tree Service, Inc., located at 2316 Route 176 in unincorporated Crystal Lake, violated the Fair Labor Standard Act’s overtime provisions.

Investigators found the tree removal and landscaping business and its owner, Humberto Gonzalez, paid the affected employees straight time in cash for their overtime work from at least November 2020 to October 2022.

The DOL said workers should have received time and one-half their hourly rate for hours over 40 in a work week.

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“Specifically, Defendants acted willfully when they paid their employees by check for their first 40 hours worked during the peak season, but then paid cash at the regular rate off the books—without maintaining any records—for hours in excess of 40 during a workweek,” the complaint said.

“Defendants’ payroll records demonstrated compliance with the FLSA despite the fact that Defendants failed to pay the required overtime premium,” the complaint added.

Investigators found that $963,854 is due to 29 employees of Red Oak Tree Service.

The figure represents $481,927 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages.

“Workers must be paid time and one-half their hourly rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek unless they meet very specific criteria. Not paying them earned overtime takes money out of their pockets of workers, harming employees and their communities because workers have less to spend,” said Wage and Hour District Director Tom Gauza in Chicago.

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“Employers are legally responsible for knowing and complying with federal wage laws,” Gauza said.