• 72°

Rockwell business owner believes he was wrongly cited for helping teen

By Amanda Raymond
amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

ROCKWELL — Good intentions didn’t help a business owner avoid a citation from the N.C. Department of Labor for allowing a teenager to mow his business’s lawn.

Fernando Portillo, owner of Romano’s Italian Cuisine, said he had been feeding a teen who would often walk the streets around town. Portillo said it looked like the teen needed some help, so he gave him free lunches at the restaurant.

“I kind of put myself in his position,” Portillo said.

Portillo said he believed the teen may have been having problems at home.

Portillo was not the only one helping the teen. Other community members also provided him with food and sometimes money.

Back in July, Portillo gave the teen a sandwich to eat, as usual, when the teen asked if he could do something nice for Portillo in return. The teen offered to mow the lawn of the business with a lawnmower borrowed from a friend and Portillo agreed.

The teen was 15 and did not have a Youth Employment Certificate, also known as a work permit.

While the teen was mowing the lawn, the teen’s mother drove up and told Portillo she did not want her son performing that work.

She pulled into a nearby business and called the police. Portillo said the teen fled, afraid he would get in trouble, but he was able to find him and bring him back to the police. The police later found out that the lawn mower the teen used was stolen.

The police did not charge Portillo with anything, but the mother said she decided to call the N.C. Department of Labor.

The mother said her son had been recently hospitalized and should have been resting, not mowing a lawn in the hot July weather. The mother also said her son was on medication that restricted sun exposure.

The mother believed her son was working for Romano’s and other businesses in the area because the businesses were giving him food and he would come home with money.

She said she did not think a meal was proper payment for the work her son was doing.

“I think they were taking advantage of my son,” she said.

Portillo said he thought the teen was homeless. The mother said he was living at home at the time and left during the day.

Portillo ended up with a $105 citation from the Department of Labor after an investigator reviewed the situation.

In the eyes of the Department of Labor, because the teen mowed the lawn of a for-profit business, it was considered employment.

“We understand he was doing a good deed … but (the investigator is) looking at the law,” Dolores Quesenberry, director of communications for the Department of Labor, said.

Spokesperson Neal O’Briant said if the teen had mowed the grass without Portillo’s knowledge, it would have been a different story.

Quesenberry said private individuals can have minors mow their lawns, but minors doing work for businesses need to have a Youth Employment Certificate to make sure they are working in “safe environments during specific times,” Quesenberry said.

“If that teen had been injured, Mr. Portillo would be having a different conversation,” Quesenberry said.

Minors can get Youth Employment Certificates for free on the Department of Labor’s website: www.nclabor.com. The employer and a parent or guardian must sign the certificate.

Portillo said he wanted to fight the citation but he could not afford the lawyer’s retainer fee. He ended up paying the citation earlier this month.

The mother said she was just trying to protect her son.

Portillo said the teen was not under his employment and he feels like he was punished for trying to help someone in need.

“Why do they keep insisting that he was an employee when we were just trying to be nice?” he said.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

Comments

Crime

Blotter: April 13

Coronavirus

County switches vaccines for Livingstone clinic after federal, state guidance

Coronavirus

US recommends ‘pause’ for J&J vaccine over clot reports

Education

Superintendent talks first 100 days, dives into district data

Business

‘It was an answer to a call:’ TenderHearted Home Care celebrates 10 years of providing care at home

News

Political Notebook: Local polls find increasing number of North Carolinians want COVID-19 vaccine

News

Trial begins on challenge to latest NC voter ID law

Local

Burch, Fisher, Marsh honored as 2021 recipients of Elizabeth Duncan Koontz Humanitarian Award

Landis

Landis board talks revenues, budget planning, department updates

College

College baseball: Catawba rolls 7-1 and 24-1

Nation/World

Student fires at officers at Tennessee school, is killed

Nation/World

Police: Minnesota officer meant to draw Taser, not handgun

Crime

Man receives consecutive prison sentences for sex offenses

Education

RSS Board of Education approves Faith Elementary sale

Coronavirus

Rowan Health Department receives 400 Pfizer, 800 Johnson & Johnson vaccines for week

Crime

Blotter: Accident in Food Lion only weekend shooting to produce injuries

Crime

Salisbury man charged with felony drug crimes

Crime

Second person charged in thefts from house near county line

Crime

Police use tear gas to end robbery stand off, arrest suspect

Local

Ask Us: When will Rowan Public Library’s West Branch open?

Nation/World

Prosecution case nears end in ex-cop’s trial in Floyd death

Nation/World

Officer accused of force in stop of Black Army officer fired

Crime

Blotter: Man charged with hitting man with car, fleeing while intoxicated

Local

‘Meet the need’: Rowan County Health Department looks to add to vaccination options