Maze by Gordon Ramsay at The London NYC is accused of failing to pay its workers overtime, according to a lawsuit filed May 2, 2011 in Manhattan federal court. A former chef at the restaurant alleges in a class action complaint that employees were required to sign employment agreements which improperly classified them as “exempt” from the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).
Although the FLSA requires that hourly employees in the United States be paid overtime pay at time and one-half the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek, the FLSA provides an exemption from overtime pay for employees employed as bona fide executive, administrative, or professional employees. To qualify for exemption, employees generally must meet certain tests regarding their job duties and be paid on a salary basis at not less than $455 per week. Job titles do not determine exempt status. In order for an exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and salary must meet all the requirements of the Department of Labor’s regulations.
Whether a chef is “exempt” from receiving overtime pay under the FLSA depends on if he or she is a salaried employee who falls within either the “administrative,” “executive,” or “professional” exemption. Department of Labor regulations (29 C.F.R. 541.301(e)(6)) provide as follows:
Chefs, such as executive chefs and sous chefs, who have attained a four-year specialized academic degree in a culinary arts program, generally meet the duties requirements for the learned professional exemption. The learned professional exemption is not available to cooks who perform predominately routine mental, manual, mechanical, or physical work.
It is a common misconception for restaurant owners to believe that if they pay a salary to kitchen staff in the “back of the house,” overtime is not required. Caution to employers: workers are only exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA if they fall within a statutory exemption.