Four interrelated Maryland assisted living providers will pay a total of $398,000 in back pay, damages and civil penalties after they “willfully mismanaged payroll records” involving 132 employees, the Department of Labor said Monday.

“This consent order sends a clear message to owners and operators of senior living and care communities at a critical time when all providers are grappling with high labor costs: It is never okay to steal from your own employees, the very front line from whom so much has been asked over the past two years,” George Mesires, a partner at the law firm Faegre Drinker and co-leader of the firm’s senior living and care team, told the McKnight’s Business Daily.

The four interrelated Upper Marlboro, MD, providers of assisted living, adult day care and transportation services will pay $364,000 in back pay and damages, plus an additional $34,000 in civil penalties.

“These are serious repercussions, not just for the company, but also for its owners and officers,” Mesires said.

An investigation found that Woodmore House Assisted Living Inpressc, We Care Adult Day Care Services, Quality Connection Transportation, GTerryD and owners and officers Denson Terry, Gwen Terry and David Douglas violated the Fair Labor Standards Act in multiple ways, according to a Labor Department press release issued Monday.

For instance, the DOL said, they did not combine hours and pay appropriate overtime premiums to workers who clocked in and out of the different businesses while performing similar duties, and they did not pay workers for all hours worked, manually adjusting time cards to omit hours and rounding down employees’ worked hours. Additionally, the DOL said, the companies made improper payroll deductions that dropped workers’ pay rates below the minimum wage, and they paid workers for overtime hours at straight time instead of time and a half.

“In this case, the companies and their owners showed a blatant disregard for the workers’ right to receive their full wages and willfully mismanaged payroll records to evade federal requirements,” Wage and Hour Division District Director Nicholas Fiorello in Baltimore said in a statement.