Seventeen-year-old Blake wouldn't necessarily consider his poolside lifeguard job to be a fun-in-the-sun type of summer gig. He's had to rescue drowning kids whose parents instead yelled at him for pulling them out of the water. He's been dehydrated. He's had to stay late putting strong-smelling chemicals in the water so you don't have to deal with other people's urine contaminating the pool.
But to Blake, as an employee of A-Beautiful Pools, the worst part of the job is being cheated out of money. (Blake asked that we give him a pseudonym since he still works for the company.) It's so bad, in fact, that he's pretty sure he has lost between $400 and $500 the past two summers as a result of strict, punitive measures he says the company takes to make damn sure its employees to show up on time and never miss a shift.
According to Blake, A-Beautiful Pools fines employees for being just ten minutes late. It fines them for missing work even if the employee said in advance she could not work. And, he says, it also requires employees to clock in 15 minutes early every shift and begin working — yet alters their time cards to show they clocked in at 10 a.m., not 9:45 — so employees are never paid for all those quarter-hours. Blake says all three scenarios have happened to him — and asserts he is far from alone.
A woman named Michelle, who answered the phone at A-Beautiful Pools, said the company did not have any comment at this time in response to our effort to verify its employee policies, which Blake's father believes are illegal.
The Texas Workforce Commission would not specifically comment on Blake's experience or A-Beautiful Pools's policies, but did take a moment to explain the Texas payday law, which prohibits docking employee pay except under specific circumstances. Being late or missing a shift do not fall under these circumstances, as far as we can tell. However, the law provides employers authority to dock pay if the employee signs off on it (Blake's father provided the Press with employee paperwork documenting the fine) and if the deduction does not bring the worker's pay beneath minimum wage.
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Blake, as a seasonal employee, makes $7.50 an hour. Not so after a $25 fine for needing to take a day off, says his father.
"Legally, they can't do this, but because these are kids between the ages of 15 and 17, a lot of them don't know the rules and the laws," Blake's father said. "So they will fine them for anything they want to fine them for, basically. And the kids don't know any better."
If what Blake says about A-Beautiful Pools's policy is true, the company must be saving loads of cash: According to this webpage, it appears A-Beautiful Pools manages 57 pool facilities across the Houston area. However, when we attempted to verify this with A-Beautiful Pools, which we had previously given three opportunities to provide its side of the story, Michelle said our phone call was "borderline harassment" and that we needed to stop contacting them.
Contrary to what we were originally told, Michelle then said the vice president of the company would in fact be calling. If she does, we will update this story.