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Afghanistan subcontractor cheated workers, suit says

Associated Press
July 3, 2014
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Federal investigators are examining whether a military subcontractor underpaid scores of medical workers in Afghanistan, pocketing federal funds that the government intended the company use to pay its employees.

A lawsuit brought in Indiana last week by Laura Hawkins of Bloomington claims Onsite Occupational Health and Safety Inc. underpaid her for the 84-hour weeks she routinely worked. Twenty other former employees have since joined the lawsuit, which has been moved to federal court. The complaint seeks class action status.

OHS, which is based in Princeton, denies the allegations, which could involve more than $7 million in dispute. It says Hawkins was paid appropriately and the claims have no basis.

Alex Bronstein-Moffly, a spokesman for the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told The Associated Press an investigation is being conducted but declined to elaborate.

The complaint claims that OHS cheated its employees and the government by keeping money that should have been paid out for overtime.

OHS, a subcontractor for another company that is a primary contractor for the Army, provides medical services to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Hawkins, a radiologic technician, worked for OHS at a site in Afghanistan.

The lawsuit claims Hawkins and other OHS employees were routinely required to work 84 hours a week or more without being paid at an overtime rate for work over 40 hours. The complaint maintains that OHS was obligated under terms of its contracts with the government and its primary contractor to pay overtime. The lawsuit says OHS refused to release those documents, but that the company is required to abide by federal and Indiana wage laws.

"By retaining monies which the U.S. government intended for payment of wages to OHS employees, OHS is unjustly and wrongfully enriching itself," the lawsuit says.

Hawkins' complaint does not specify an amount of damages. But in an affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court for southern Indiana, OHS Director of Human Capital Jeff Devine calculated the total overtime allegedly due to the company's 237 employees who would be covered if the complaint is found valid at more than $7 million.

"Onsite believes she was paid properly and that it has not violated the law with regard to Ms. Hawkins or anyone else," Devine said in an email to The Associated Press. In another email, Devine also called the claims "unfounded."

It isn't the first time such claims have surfaced in Afghanistan, though officials say OHS hasn't been investigated before. The Special Inspector General's office alerted Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials to claims of financial mistreatment of subcontractors and employees in June 2013.

The Special Inspector General's office is currently reviewing 23 active complaints involving nonpayment to subcontractors and employees, spokesman Philip J. LaVelle told the AP on Wednesday. LaVelle said the office receives about eight to ten such complaints each month.

Since December 2013, about $472,000 in contested payments has been made to subcontractors and employees following inquiries by the office, LaVelle said.

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