Head Chefs May Be Entitled to Overtime Pay, says New York Federal Court

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Head Chefs May Be Entitled to Overtime Pay, says New York Federal Court

back of house cooks

A Head Chef may be entitled to overtime pay, according to a New York federal court.  A recent decision by Judge George Daniels, held that a “Head Chef” at Rare Bar and Grill Chelsea in New York was not necessarily “exempt” from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law.

Francisco Garcia Tamayo, the Head Chef at Rare Chelsea, was responsible for organizing the refrigerator and usually prepared ingredients and cooked from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. each workday.  Garcia worked 80 hours per week and received a fixed weekly salary of $1,086 without any overtime pay of time and a half for hours worked over 40 each week.  Garcia’s salary as a Head Chef equaled an hourly rate of $13.00, while the three non-exempt line cooks at Rare Chelsea earned between $14.00 and $17.50 per hour.

This case turned on the issue of whether Garcia was an “executive” who was exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA and New York Labor Law. Employees employed in an executive capacity are exempt from overtime pay under U.S. Department of Labor Regulations.  An “executive” employee is:

  • compensated on a salary basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week (in New York City, $825 per week);
  • has a primary duty of management of the enterprise in which the employee is employed;
  • customarily and regularly directs the work or two or more other employees; and
  • has the authority to hire, fire, or promote other employees.

Garcia admitted to engaging in some managerial functions, including managing ingredient inventory and quality, overseeing the preparation of those ingredients before the kitchen opened each day, and serving as quality control for the restaurant’s cooking.  However, the court found that these managerial functions were not clearly “more important” than the non-managerial functions Garcia performed, i.e. cooking for ten hours a day, and that Garcia may be a non-exempt employee as a result.

Garcia noted that part of his job was to make sure “the restaurant was clean” and that “things go well.”  However, he also testified that the line cooks working under him supervised their own stations, that new employees often received most of their training from other employees, and that he had to run decisions by the Executive Chef via phone whenever the Executive Chef was not present in the restaurant.  As a result, Garcia’s supervisory and management responsibilities were his primary responsibility only when the Executive Chef was not present.  Garcia also stated that many of his day-to-day decisions involved the Executive Chef’s direction and that the Executive Chef set kitchen employees’ schedules and developed the food preparation procedures that Head Chefs had to follow.

This case may have an important impact on for cooks, chefs, and sous-chefs who are misclassified as “exempt” and unlawfully deprived of overtime pay because they are paid on a salary rather than on an hourly rate.

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