US Labor Department Targets Labor Violations at Florida Restaurants

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US Labor Department Targets Labor Violations at Florida Restaurants

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An ongoing enforcement initiative conducted by the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, which focused on full-service restaurants in Florida, has found widespread violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) minimum wage, overtime and child labor provisions, according to a press release from the Department of Labor (DOL).

During 2012, the DOL’s Tampa office conducted more than 80 investigations of restaurants under this initiative, resulting in nearly $500,000 in minimum wage and overtime back wages for more than 800 employees who had been denied fair compensation for all of their hours worked, in violation of the FLSA. These investigations also resulted in the assessment of liquidated damages and civil money penalties.

“The restaurant industry employs some of our country’s lowest-paid workers who, especially during hard economic times, are vulnerable to exploitation. We will continue our effort to promote awareness and improve compliance in this industry,” said James Schmidt, the Wage and Hour Division’s district director in Tampa. “We are pleased to be working with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to educate employers and help foster a vibrant and compliant local restaurant industry.  Our collaboration helps protect workers and ensures a level playing field for Florida’s law-abiding employers.”

Investigators from the DOL’s Tampa office are making unannounced visits to full-service restaurants to assess compliance with all applicable labor standards. Investigations conducted under this initiative in 2012 uncovered widespread violations of the FLSA in the Hillsborough County area. Common violations found include requiring employees to work exclusively for tips, without regard to minimum wage standards; making illegal deductions from workers’ wages for walkouts, breakages and cash register shortages, which reduce wages below the required minimum wage; and incorrectly calculating overtime for servers based on their $2.13 per hour base rate before tips, instead of the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Significant child labor violations, such as allowing minors to operate hazardous equipment, including dough mixers and meat slicers, also persist.

The DOL Tampa office is continuing its enforcement initiative this year to identify and remedy such common FLSA violations. When violations are found, the division is pursuing corrective action, including payment of back wages, civil money penalties and liquidated damages, to ensure accountability and deter future violations. The FLSA provides that employers who violate the law are, as a general rule, liable to employees for their back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are paid directly to the affected employees.

Additionally, the DOL Tampa office is engaging key employer associations to help provide employers with child labor and FLSA compliance assistance information, and to secure cooperation in promoting industrywide compliance and accountability. Similarly, the division is conducting outreach to workers and community groups, demonstrating its commitment to addressing systemic wage and child labor violations, and to encourage vulnerable workers to recognize potential violations.

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In accordance with the FLSA, an employer of a tipped employee is required to pay no less than $2.13 an hour in direct wages, provided that amount plus the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. If an employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages do not equal the minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. Employers also are required to provide employees notice of the FLSA tip credit provisions, to maintain accurate time and payroll records and to comply with the hours, hazardous orders and other restrictions applying to workers under age 18.

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