Federal Law

U.S. Department of Labor Proposes New Rules on Tip Sharing

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR PROPOSES NEW RULES ON TIP SHARING

The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a proposal to change the tip sharing regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Under the proposed rule, workplaces would have the freedom to allow sharing of tips among more employees.  The proposal would help decrease wage disparities between tipped and non-tipped workers – an option that is currently restricted by a rule promulgated in 2011 that has been challenged in a number of courts.

The Department of Labor’s proposal only applies where employers pay a full minimum wage and do not take a tip credit and allows sharing tips through a tip pool with employees who do not traditionally receive direct tips – such as restaurant cooks and dish washers. These “back of the house” employees contribute to the overall customer experience, but may receive less compensation than their traditionally tipped co-workers.  The proposal would not affect current rules applicable to employers that claim a tip credit under the FLSA.

The Department of Labor promulgated tip regulations in 2011 that restricted this option. Since 2011, there has been a significant amount of litigation involving the tip pooling and tip retention practices of employers that pay a direct cash wage of at least the federal minimum wage and do not claim a FLSA tip credit.  There has also been litigation directly challenging the Department’s authority to promulgate the provisions of the 2011 regulations that restrict sharing of tips.

The Department of Labor stated that in the past several years, several states have changed their laws to require employers to pay tipped employees a direct cash wage that is at least the federal minimum wage.  This means that fewer employers can take the FLSA tip credit.  The Department of Labor’s proposed new rule follows these developments, along with serious concerns that it incorrectly construed the statute when promulgating the 2011 regulations.

It should be noted that many states like New York and California, have laws that prohibit tips from being shared between back-and-front-of-the-house employees, and that also explicitly prohibit management from sharing in the pot.

Virginia Area Restaurants to Pay $3M in Back Wages and Damages to Workers

VIRGINIA AREA RESTAURANTS TO PAY $3 MILLION IN BACK WAGES AND DAMAGES TO WORKERS

Six Roanoke, Virginia area restaurants and their owners will pay $1.5 million in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages, to 149 employees for Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violations. The settlement, which was entered into in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, is a result of a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation.

The Department of Labor’s investigation found that the restaurants willfully violated FLSA minimum wage and overtime provisions by only compensating servers through tips and not paying the federal minimum wage at one-and-one-half their regular rates of pay when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek. The restaurants also paid non-exempt kitchen staff – cooks, assistant cooks, and dishwashers – straight time for the overtime hours they worked. Investigators also found the restaurants violated the worker’s rights by failing to keep and maintain accurate records of the hours employees worked as required.

“This resolution secures proper compensation for these hard-working employees, and helps ensure that the law will be followed in the future,” said a representative for the Department of Labor. “The agreement recovers wages owed to employees for work performed years ago,” commented another representative.  “The outcome in this case positively impacts voluntary compliance in the food service industry in Virginia, and will level the competitive playing field for employers that comply with the law.”

Philadelphia Restaurants to Pay Employees Nearly $830,000 for Wage Violations

PHILADELPHIA RESTAURANTS TO PAY EMPLOYEES NEARLY $830,000 FOR WAGE VIOLATIONS

Two Philadelphia restaurants, Tierra Colombiana and Mixto, have agreed to pay 156 employees a total of $830,00 in back wages, liquidated damages and penalties to resolve federal wage theft violations.

An investigation conducted by the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor (DOL) found that Tierra Colombiana and Mixto violated the overtime, recordkeeping and minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Both restaurants are owned by Jorge Mosquera, and are operated by Jorge and Mercy Mosquera. “This resolution restores back wages rightfully earned by hard-working employees,” said a Department of Labor representative. “We encourage all employers to take advantage of the Department of Labor’s education and outreach efforts to help them understand their responsibilities and how to properly comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

The Department of Labor found that servers, bartenders, barbacks, runners, hostesses, kitchen chefs, and dishwashers regularly worked more than 40 hours per week, but were allegedly paid overtime hours worked at a rate of their regular hourly pay instead of at time-and-a-half as the FLSA requires.  The Department of Labor claims that the restaurants also failed to maintain required records and made some illegal deductions from employee wages by taking “breakage fees” out from workers’ paychecks, which resulted in some restaurant workers being paid less than the federal minimum wage. “This enforcement action will ensure that workers are paid for all of the hours they worked, and will go a long way in leveling the playing field for employers in the restaurant industry,” commented another representative.

The restaurants have agreed to comply with the FLSA in the future and protect the workers’ rights, including paying the proper overtime premium. The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (note that New York has a higher minimum wage) for all hours worked, plus time-and-one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses, and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week.  Employers also must maintain accurate time and payroll records.

Smokey Bones Restaurant Accused of Tip Credit Violations

Smokey Bones Tip Credit Wage Theft Lawsuit

Servers at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill claim that the restaurant chain has engaged in tip credit violations and wage theft, according to a lawsuit filed in South Carolina federal court.

The lawsuit alleges that Smokey Bones, while taking advantage of the FLSA’s tip credit provision, required waitstaff to perform non-tipped side work that was not related to their tipped occupations as servers and bartenders, as well as required them to spend more than twenty percent  of their shifts performing non-tipped side work that was related to their tipped occupations. The servers allege that they were required to pay the restaurants out of their tips when a customer walked out, were required to purchase additional  Smokey Bones t-shirts with their tips, and were never notified that Smokey Bones was paying them less than minimum wage pursuant to the FLSA’s tip-credit provision. The waitstaff also allege that all three of those requirements violate the tip-credit provision.

In a May 31 decision, a South Carolina federal court ruled that conditional certification of a nationwide class of servers and bartenders was warranted. The court held that the waitstaff produced evidence of nationwide Smokey Bones job descriptions for servers and bartenders that on their face require side work. While the court ruled, there is no doubt that requiring side work does not necessarily violate the FLSA, the waitstaff made a sufficient showing that Smokey Bones’ nationwide side work policy potentially caused FLSA violations for all Smokey Bones servers and bartenders. The waitstaff and the other opt-ins’ declarations stated that at least three Smokey Bones locations in three different states all implemented the side work discussed in the server and bartender descriptions in such a way as to require violations of the dual-jobs regulation and/or the FOH’s twenty-percent rule.

Smokey Bones has 67 locations along the East in 16 states including Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Michigan, Georgia, Ohio, and Virginia.

Philadelphia Restaurant to Pay $400,000 to 63 Workers for Wage Theft Violations

Philadelphia Restaurant to Pay $400k to 63 Workers for Wage Theft

Talula’s Garden, a Philadelphia restaurant, has agreed to pay 63 workers $400,000 for wage theft violations, including requiring employees to work unpaid hours, according to a lawsuit initiated by the U.S. Department of Labor. The lawsuit alleges Talula’s Garden violated the overtime, minimum wage, and recordkeeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

“The workers at Talula’s Garden did not receive the required minimum wage and overtime pay,” said a representative for the Department of Labor. “Our agency is committed to ensuring that workers not only receive the wages they have rightfully earned, but that employers are provided all the tools they need to understand and comply with the law.”

The investigation found that line cooks did prep work off-the-clock before the start of their shifts, resulting in unpaid overtime work.  Servers and bartenders also worked – off-the-clock and without pay – to prepare food, the restaurant, and their individual work stations, resulting in minimum wage and overtime violations. The restaurant also failed to maintain accurate records of work hours for bartenders, servers, and line cooks.

“The off-the-clock work performed by Talula’s Garden employees resulted in clear violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act,” said another Department of Labor employee. The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time-and-one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses, and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also must maintain accurate time and payroll records.

Dimora Ristorante Pays Waiter $60,000 in a Wage Violations Settlement

Dimmora Ristorante pays a Waiter $60,000 in a Wage Violations Settlement

Dimora Ristorante, an Italian restaurant in Norwood, New Jersey, has paid $60,000 to a former waiter to settle a wage violations lawsuit for unpaid minimum and overtime wages and tip theft.  The waiter argued that Dimora unlawfully required all front-of-the-house tipped employees, such as waiters and bussers, to pool their tips and share portions of them with two of the restaurants’ managers.

Under the FLSA, a restaurant can require front-of-the-house employees to pool and share their tips.  However, the restaurant violates the FLSA if managers participate in the tip pool.  Only non-managerial tipped employees can participate in the tip pool.  If a restaurant violates this rule, it loses the tip credit, which is the privilege of paying front-of-the-house tipped employees at a reduced hourly wage rate.  If this happens, the restaurant must pay back the tipped employees the tip credit, i.e., the difference between the full minimum wage rate and whatever reduced amount it paid them (which cannot be lower than $2.13 in New Jersey).

This is what the waiter argued against Dimora.  According to the waiter, Dimora required him to share portions of his tips with two managers who hired, fired, interviewed, directed the duties, and set the work schedules of tipped employees.  Because of this violation of the FLSA, the waiter claimed that the restaurant should not have paid him at the reduced wage rate of $2.90 per hour.  He argued that because Dimora violated the FLSA, it should have paid him the full minimum wage rate of $8.38 in effect in 2016 in New Jersey.  In other words, the waiter claimed he was owed the tip credit of $5.48 (i.e., the difference between $8.38 and $2.90) per hour worked up to 40 per workweek.  The waiter also claimed that the restaurant failed to pay him any wages at all for hours worked over forty per workweek.

The waiter was represented by Louis Pechman and Gianfranco Cuadra of Pechman Law Group PLLC.

TGI Friday’s Settles Wage Theft Case for $19.1 Million

TGI Friday's Wage theft lawsuit

A nationwide wage theft lawsuit against TGI Friday’s has been settled for $19.1 million according to a court filing by the workers’ attorneys in New York federal court. The settlement, which covers 28,000 restaurant workers, is a record amount for resolution of a wage theft lawsuit in the restaurant industry. This settlement is the latest example of fast casual restaurants across the United States paying out millions of dollars on wage theft cases.

The lawsuit alleged that TGI Friday’s failed to pay its tipped hourly food service workers the proper minimum wage, overtime pay, and misappropriated tips. Attorneys for the servers, bussers, runners, bartenders, barbacks and hosts, claimed that TGI Friday’s failed to satisfy the strict requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) that would allow them to pay a reduced minimum wage rate to tipped employees. In particular, TGI Friday’s had a policy and practice that required tipped employees to spend over two hours and/or in excess of 20% of their work shift performing non-tip producing “side work.” Side work included, general cleaning of the restaurant, preparing food in bulk for customers, cutting produce, refilling condiments, and stocking and replenishing the bar and service areas. According to attorneys for the workers, this practice violated the “80/20 rule” and TGI Friday’s should have paid the tipped employees the full minimum wage rate, rather than reduced tipped minimum wage rate.

The front of the house workers also alleged that TGI Friday’s required them to perform “off the clock” work for which they were never compensated. “Off the clock” work consisted of requiring them to arrive at the restaurant one hour before customer service to perform side work, requiring them to punch in after they got their first table, and punch out before they performed closing side work. As a result of these practices, workers were not compensated for all the hours they worked and when they worked over forty hours per workweek, they were not paid overtime pay. Furthermore, the lawsuit claimed that TGI Friday’s required tips to be distributed to employees who are not entitled to tips under the FLSA and/or NYLL such as, silverware rollers and expeditors. Additionally, workers were given only one uniform, which TGI Friday’s failed to launder or pay workers the statutory uniform allowance. Finally, TGI Friday’s was accused of making unlawful deductions from employee wages for customer walkouts.

If approved, the settlement would resolve a nationwide class action brought by more than a dozen workers, alleging violations of the FLSA and claims brought under the labor or unfair competition laws of nine states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and New York.

 

Jessica Biel’s Restaurant Hit with $430k Wage Theft Lawsuit

Au Fudge gratuities Jessica Biel

Au Fudge, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant owned by actress Jessica Biel, was hit with a wage theft lawsuit claiming the restaurant withheld over $430,000 in tips from staff during events.   Described by the Los Angeles Times as an “organic, kid-friendly restaurant,” Au Fudge serves fine food and drinks and offers creative spaces for children’s activities, as well as au pair services.  Biel and her business partners are sued by several former employees including a former server, server assistant, au pair, bartender, runner, host and event director for gratuities and rest and meal break pay.

Au Fudge frequently hosted private events for big companies including Amazon, Netflix, and Fox Studios where the event contracts included an automatic 22 percent gratuity.  In their lawsuit, the former employees claimed that whenever there was a private event at Au Fudge, the restaurant led customers to believe that the “gratuity” fee that they paid was a tip that would be distributed to the waitstaff.  According to the workers, Au Fudge unlawfully pocketed all the gratuity fees that customers paid, even though those amounts should have been given to the waitstaff as tips. The complaint also alleges that employees were not paid for rest and meal breaks under California Law.

Attorneys for the workers are seeking unpaid wages, tip disgorgement, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees.

 

 

 

Indian Restaurant Ordered to Pay $1.4 million to Five Restaurant Workers for Wage Violations

Indus Valley wage violations

Indus Valley Restaurant, an Indian restaurant on the Upper West Side, has been ordered by a New York Judge to pay $1.4 million in back pay and damages to five former restaurant workers for wage violations.

Indus Valley, now closed, was accused by the workers of failing to pay minimum wage, overtime, and spread of hours pay as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law. The workers who sued the restaurant included two cooks, a food runner, a waiter, and a busboy. The workers, who regularly worked up to seventy-two hours per week, were each paid a fixed weekly salary, rather than an hourly wage. They did not receive overtime payment when they worked over forty hours in a workweek.  Three of the employees are also owed unpaid minimum wages.

The decision follows an inquest at which the employees gave sworn testimony about their weekly schedules and payments from Indus Valley.  The owners failed to appear and were held in default by the Court.  Indus Valley is ordered to pay $1,412,318.66 plus interest, for unpaid wages, liquidated and statutory damages. Laura Rodriguez, an associate at Pechman Law Group, was lead attorney on this case.

Rosa Mexicano Reaches $3.6 Million Settlement with Servers for Tip Violations and Overtime

rosa mexicano overtime pay lawsuit tip theft

Rosa Mexicano has agreed to pay $3.6 million to settle a nationwide class action lawsuit alleging that the upscale Mexican restaurant chain failed to pay its waitstaff minimum and overtime wages and misappropriated tips.  The settlement agreement covers an estimated 3,500 employees at twelve locations in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Minneapolis.

The restaurant workers filed the lawsuit suit in New York federal court in July of 2016, arguing Rosa Mexicano claimed an invalid tip credit and improperly paid their waitstaff at a tipped minimum wage instead of the full minimum wage. The waitstaff claims in their lawsuit that Rosa Mexicano did not inform them they would be paid at tipped minimum wage and misappropriated their tips, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”). Tips were shared with “floaters”, who conducted miscellaneous tasks around the restaurant without ever having customer contact. According to the lawsuit, these “floaters” were not entitled to sharing in a tip pool, invalidating Rosa Mexicano’s tip credit.  The wage theft lawsuit also claimed that Rosa Mexicano did not pay waitstaff for hours worked over forty per week. Some former servers claimed to work up to 50 hours per week without receiving overtime pay. The lawsuit also alleges that waitresses, waiters, bussers, and bartenders did not receive “call-in pay” required under NYLL, when they reported for work only to be sent home before being able to work three hours. One of the former workers claims this happened on 146 shifts.  For these violations, the employees sought to recover unpaid minimum wages, unpaid overtime wages, unpaid “call-in pay”, liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees.

The attorneys for the restaurant workers are Fitapelli & Schaffer, a New York law firm. The settlement is subject to approval by United States Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis.

 

 

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