High Enforcement, New Tip Pool Rules Require Restaurants Reassess & Manage FLSA Risks

Restaurant employers should audit and tighten the employee wage, timekeeping and other wage and hour practices to minimize their exposure to heightened enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal wage and hour laws by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) allowed WHD to recover more than $189 million in back pay from restaurant employers over the past five years, while also evaluating the implications of the new WHD Field Assistance Bulletin: Amendment to FLSA Section 3(m) Included in Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (FAB) on their ability to legally use tip pools for their tipped employees in light of the enactment by Congress as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Act), Pub. L. No. 115-141, Div. S., Tit. XII, § 1201 (Act).

With WHD set to continue the aggressive wage and hour investigation and enforcement practices that it has used to recover more than $1.2 billion in back pay awards from employers over the past five years and having just announced the temporary availability of a pilot voluntary resolution program for employers to use to settle WHD wage and hour liability problems, prompt action is particularly important now.

Restaurants Face WHD Wage & Hour Responsibilities

Restaurant industry employers have been the subject of special wage and hour law investigatory and enforcement by the WHD for the past decade.  In fiscal year 2017 alone, WHD’s enforcement statistics restaurant industry initiative targeting restaurant employers enabled it to successfully recover $42,936,552 for 44,363 from 5,446 cases brought against restaurant employers.  See WHD Fiscal Year Data, Low Wage, High Violation Industries.  See also, Restaurant Owners Beware!

WHD began targeting the restaurant industry for aggressive compliance education, investigation and enforcement and its workers and their representatives for educational outreach after finding widespread noncompliance with minimum wage, overtime and other wage and hour rules throughout the industry.

Federal investigated and enforced by WHD includes the following general rules as well as applicable special rules for tipped employees:

  • Covered non-exempt workers generally are entitled to a federal minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour;
  • The 1996 Amendments to the FLSA allow employers to pay a youth minimum wage of not less than $4.25 an hour to employees who are under 20 years of age during the first 90 consecutive calendar days after initial employment by their employer. The law contains certain protections for employees that prohibit employers from displacing any employee in order to hire someone at the youth minimum wage.  Workers under 16 years of age also are subject to special restrictions on their hours of work and the nature of work.  Federal law authorizes substantial additional penalties for violation of certain of these special requirements on youth employment;
  • Wages are due on the regular payday for the pay period covered;
  • Deductions made from wages for items such as cash shortages, required uniforms, or customer walk-outs are illegal if the deduction reduces the employee’s wages below the minimum wage or cuts into overtime pay;
  • Deductions made for items other than board, lodging, or other recognized
    facilities normally cannot be made in an overtime workweek;
  • The employer may take credit for food which is provided at cost but cannot take credit for discounts given employees on food (menu) prices;
  • The employer must pay employees overtime at a rate of at least one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours per week;
  • Equal pay requirements;
  • Family medical leave act requirements under the Family and Medical Leave Act; and
  • Others.

In addition to these generally applicable requirements, the FLSA also includes a number of special rules on restaurant’s compensation of “tipped employees.” These rules which often are the subject for WHD and other challenges are the subject of the amendments made by the Act and new FAB.  For purposes of these rules “tipped employees” are those who customarily and regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips.  Among other things, the FLSA tipped employee rules generally provide that a restaurant employer may consider tips part of wages (“tip credit”) provided by the employer only if it meets specific requirements including:

  • The employer must pay the tipped employee at least $2.13 an hour in direct wages;
  • The employer must ensure that the additional amount of tips a tipped employee receive coupled with the employee’s direct wages equals or exceeds the minimum wage;
  • The employer must inform tipped employees of the provisions about FLSA section 3(m) in advance if the employer elects to use the tip credit.
  • Employees must retain all of their tips, except to the extent that they participate in a valid tip pooling or sharing arrangement.
  • In determining the regular rate for a tipped employee, all components of the employee’s wages must be considered (i.e., cash, board, lodging, facilities, and tip credit).

Act Amends Tip Credit Rules

In addition to managing their overall compliance with the FLSA and other wage and hour rules, many restaurant employers of tipped employees also now much review and update their practices in responses to new rules on tip pools enacted by Congress earlier this year.  The Act amended the FLSA rules concerning tipped employees in several material respects.  The amendments made by the Act focus on tip pools.  Other requirements are left mostly undisturbed.

Specifically, the Act:

  • Prohibits employers from keeping tips received by their employees, regardless whether the employer takes a tip credit under 29 U.S.C. § 203(m);
  • Provides that portions of WHD’s regulations codified at 29 C.F.R. §§ 531.52, 531.54, and 531.59 that barred tip pooling when employers pay tipped employees at least the full FLSA minimum wage and do not claim a tip credit have no further force or effect pending future WHD action.
  • Gives WHD enforcement authority in FLSA sections 16(b) and 16(c) to, among other things, recover all tips unlawfully kept by the employer, in addition to an equal amount in liquidated damages.

Before enactment of the Act, WHD at the direction of the Trump Administration already was considering adopting a Proposed Rule published on December 5, 2017 that would have rescinded a 2011 Obama Administration-era WHD regulation barring tip-sharing arrangements in establishments where the employers pay full Federal minimum wage and do not take a tip credit against their minimum wage obligations.  That 2017 Proposed Rule provided that employers paying a full minimum wage to employees could require these workers to share their tips with other employees, including employees who do not customarily receive tips including restaurant cooks, dishwashers and other traditionally lower-wage classifications.

While WHD has not yet issued final rules implementing the changes enacted by the Act, earlier this week it published  a Field Assistance Bulletin: Amendment to FLSA Section 3(m) Included in Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (FAB) that  discusses its enforcement policy regarding the Act’s amendments pending WHD’s future adoption of regulations.

The FAB states that employers who pay the full regular FLSA minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour for regular time) to tipped employees are no longer prohibited from allowing employees who are not customarily and regularly tipped—such as cooks and dishwashers—to participate in tip pools. However, employers cannot allow managers or supervisors to participate in the tip pools as the Act equates such participation with the employer’s keeping the tips.

As an enforcement policy, the FAB states that WHD will use the duties test at 29 C.F.R. § 541.100(a)(2)-(4) to determine whether an employee is a manager or supervisor for purposes of section 3(m).

Finally, the WHD states that given the changes made by the Act, WHD will not apply WHD’s July 20, 2017 non-enforcement policy concerning retention of tips by tipped employees paid the full FLSA minimum wage to new investigations beginning on or after March 23, 2018. When an investigation covers periods before and after March 23, 2018, and the employee was paid at least the full FLSA minimum wage, however, the FAB states WHD will only cite violations of section 3(m) if they occurred after March 23, 2018.

In an April 9, 2018 press release issued in connection with its publication of the FAB,  WHD states that it expects to fully address the impact of the 2018 amendments made by the Act through formal rulemaking soon.  In the meantime, restaurant employers using or interested in using tip pools should ensure that their practices are tailored to respond to the FAB guidance as well as to otherwise comply with all WHD and other wage and hour rules.

Enforcement Risks  Merit Heightened Restaurant Compliance 

Confirming and maintaining appropriate wage and hour compliance and risk management is particularly imperative because of the WHD’s ongoing targeted enforcement efforts against industry employers.

The evidence makes clear that the restaurant industry’s high record of noncompliance makes it a continuing target for aggressive wage and hour law oversight, enforcement and compliance outreach by WHD.

To assist and encourage restaurant operators’ voluntary compliance with the FLSA and wage and hour rules, WHD offers a number of tip sheets and other resources specifically focusing on restaurant industry employers on its website as well as conducts other outreach. See e.g., Restaurants and Fast Food Establishments under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Along with these compliance efforts, however, WHD also targets restaurant employers for aggressive oversight and enforcement, as well as conducts significant outreach educate and encourage state agencies and workers to enforce employee wage and hour rights.  See e.g., U.S. Department of Labor Undertakes Education and Enforcement Initiative To Improve Compliance in Green Bay-Area Restaurants (April 12, 2018);U.S. Department of Labor Sets Up Hotline for Back Wages Owed Employees at New Jersey and New York Houlihan’s Restaurants;  Workers Owed Wages.

Despite WHD’s highly publicized enforcement efforts and substantial compliance outreach to the industry, WHD enforcement statistics reflect that noncompliance remains an industry wide problem.  WHD reports that common violations include worker misclassification of workers, inappropriately claiming tip credit under FLSA 3(m); improperly deducting walkouts, cash register shortages, breakage, cost of uniforms, etc.,  improper classification of employees as exempt employees; and recordkeeping deficiencies.

WHD data also reflects that the WHD is continuing to successfully target restaurant employers aggressively under the Trump Administration.  WHD credits these efforts with allowing it to recover $42 million in back pay from restaurant employers in fiscal year 2017 alone.  2018 enforcement data reflects that WHD is continuing these efforts in 2018 with great success.

For instance, in February, WHD announced that the operator of 14 restaurants in Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia, Taziki’s Restaurants LLC doing business as Taziki’s Mediterranean Café was paying $135,844 to 26 employees to resolve violations of FLSA overtime and recordkeeping provisions.  According to WHD, Taziki’s violated the FLSA by failing to combine the hours that individual employees worked at multiple locations in the same workweek to determine whether overtime was due. Instead, the employer paid each employee with multiple paychecks corresponding to each location. This practice resulted in failure to pay overtime when an employee’s combined hours totaled more than 40 in a workweek.  Investigators also found that Taziki’s Restaurants LLC failed to pay workers for time they spent traveling between restaurants to perform work. This exclusion of work time from the payroll created a record keeping violation, and these previously unrecorded hours also resulted in additional overtime found due.

All indications are that it subsequently still is continuing its vigorous targeting of the industry.  WHD announced its establishment of a hotline for 1,471 current and former Houlihan’s employees of 17 of the restaurant chain’s New Jersey and New York locations to assist them in recovering back wages and liquidated damages.  See U.S. Department of Labor Sets Up Hotline for Back Wages Owed Employees at New Jersey and New York Houlihan’s Restaurants (April 12, 2018); U.S. Department of Labor Undertakes Education and Enforcement Initiative To Improve Compliance in Green Bay-Area Restaurants  (April 12, 2018); U.S. Department of Labor Investigation Results in Tennessee Restaurant Paying $48,197 to Resolve Minimum Wage and Overtime Violations (April 11, 2018).

Meanwhile, state wage and hour law enforcement and private enforcement of federal and state wage and laws also continues to rise, in part as a result of WHD’s concurrent educational outreach to industry workers , plaintiff’s attorneys and union representatives about rights and remedies and outreach, coordination and grant funding to state wage and hour enforcement agencies.

Amid these ongoing risks, WHD recently has given employer a new option for resolving FLSA and other wage and hour law violation exposures.  Under the new pilot self-audit Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program WHD announced on March 6, WHD says that it will allow employers accepted into the program after voluntarily disclosing violations to resolve their exposure WHD penalties and liquidated damages commonly assessed by WHD against employers for violating the FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations by:

  • Voluntarily disclosing the violations to WHD before becoming subject to investigation or enforcement and requesting admission to the program;
  • Paying affected workers 100 percent of the unpaid back pay due wrongfully denied by the end of the next full pay period after receiving the summary of unpaid wages from WHD confirming the back pay amount;
  • Working with WHD prospectively to correct noncompliant practices; and
  • Taking other actions to correct and prevent a recurrence of those violations.

While participation in the PAID program allows a participating employer to settle its exposure to prosecution for those violations by WHD, many employers may face challenges in using the program as a result of the inability to marshal the required capital to pay 100 percent of the back pay due within the required time period. In addition, acceptance into the program is not available for certain violations and other conditions and limitations apply.  See Employers Should Weigh New DOL PAID Program, Other Options To Manage Rising FLSA Minimum Wage & Overtime Risks.  While employers concerned about potential existing or past violation exposures will need to weigh the new option carefully with the assistance of experienced legal counsel,  the availability of this option coupled with the high risk of enforcement and resulting liability makes it important for employers to assess their potential risk and associated risk mitigation options promptly.  Consequently, restaurant employers are well advised to exercise extreme care to audit within the scope of attorney-client privileged  the adequacy of their practices and records and evaluate options for mitigating their wage and hour exposures with the assistance of legal counsel experienced with wage and hour and related workforce matters.

 About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for management work, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

The author of the “Texas Payday Act,” and numerous other highly regarded publications on wage and hour and other human resources, employee benefits and compensation publications, Ms. Stamer is well-known for her 30 years of extensive wage and hour, compensation and other management advice and representation of restaurant and other hospitality, health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, governmental and other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service as a management consultant,  business coach and consultant and policy strategist as well through her leadership participation in professional and civic organizations such her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and policy adviser to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; ABA Real Property Probate and Trust (RPTE) Section former Employee Benefits Group Chair, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, and Defined Contribution Committee Co-Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair and current Employee Benefits Group Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair, Substantive and Group Committee member, Membership Committee member and RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, highly popular lecturer, and serial symposia chair, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other leadership, performance, regulatory and operational risk management, public policy and community service concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Want to know more? See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872.

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