Haru restaurants in New York City, were hit with a tip theft lawsuit that claimed the restaurants had a tip distribution scheme where sushi chefs would receive a daily portion of the tip pool. The lawsuit claims that the sushi chefs did not perform personal service to customers at a level that is a principal and regular part of their duty and as a result they are not entitled to share tips under either the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or the New York Labor Laws (NYLL).
Attorneys for the workers also claim that servers, bussers, runners and bartenders were required to perform side work at the start, during, and at the end of every shift which amounted to more than 20% of their work time and an excess of two hours a day. The side work that these tipped employees were required to perform included cleaning bathrooms, sweeping, mopping, setting up and taking out garbage cans, filing soy sauce bottles, folding napkins and restocking. According to the wage theft lawsuit, the restaurants required the workers to perform most of the side work before the restaurant opened or after the restaurant closed and customers had left. Notably the tipped employees were required to come in at 10:30 am for a lunch shift when the restaurant didn’t open until 11:30 am.
Under the FLSA, employers are allowed to take a “tip credit” and pay waiters, bussers, and bartenders below the federal minimum wage. The United States Department of Labor regulations provide, however, that a restaurant will not qualify for the “tip credit” for employees that spend more than 20% of their time performing non-tipped work. Haru’s tipped employees are seeking to recover minimum wage, overtime wages, misappropriated tips and call-in pay.
Haru restaurants are part of a chain of sushi restaurants owned and operated by Benihana National Corp. They have previously been sued for discrimination against Hispanics and unpaid overtime and spread of hours.