City | 9:34 pm | August 7, 2013 | By Isaac Stanley-Becker

Gourmet Heaven accused of labor violations

Gourmet Heaven, the late-night food mecca with two locations in New Haven, was temporarily shut down Wednesday and could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines due to workplace violations unearthed by the Connecticut Department of Labor.

The combined convenience stores and restaurants have misclassified workers as independent contractors, failed to maintain proper payroll records and consistently failed to pay workers minimum wage or overtime compensation, according to a Labor Department press release.

Department officials opened an investigation into the two Elm City establishments, operated by Chang Cho of Woodbridge, after receiving a complaint from a former employee.

The probe found that 15 people working a regular shift at the restaurant were classified by their employer as independent contractors and thus not paid adequate wages. The agency’s Wage and Workplace Standards Division issued stop work orders for both locations, causing them to shut down temporarily this afternoon. The establishments have since reopened, permitted to do so after having provided documentation to the state that employees are on the proper payrolls.

“This is a case where an employer is taking unfair advantage of his employees and also cheating the state by not paying the proper taxes or providing worker protections, such as unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation,” State Labor Commissioner Sharon M. Palmer said in the press release.

Gerado Sedeno, an employee on the late shift at the Gourmet Heaven located at 44 Whitney Ave., said Wednesday evening that the store is back up-and-running and that he has not heard about any fines. He said it is his understanding that he has always been paid as a regular employee and not as an independent contractor.

Gary Pechie, director of the Wage and Workplace Standards Division of the Labor Department, said violations date back as far as four years ago, according to the state’s press release.

Pechie added that Gourmet Heaven will get slapped with a $300 fine for every single week an employee was working while not on the proper payroll, which could amount to “tens of thousands of dollars.”

Investigators found evidence of virtually “every violation that was possible for us to find,” he said in the release.

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