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

April 12, 2018

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.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advice or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.

 


DOL Aggressively Targeting Restaurants For Wage & Hour & Child Labor Law Violations

November 3, 2016

Restaurant employers beware! Restaurants are the target of a highly successful, U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) restaurant enforcement and compliance initiative that WHD already has used to nail a multitude of restaurants across the country for “widespread violations” of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage, overtime, child labor and other wage and hour laws (WH Law).

Having reportedly found WH Law violations in “nearly every one” of the WH Law investigations conducted against restaurant employers during 2016 and recovered millions of dollars of back pay and penalties from restaurants caught through investigations conducted under its WHD Restaurant Enforcement Initiative, WHD Administrator Dr. David Weil recently confirmed WHD plans to expand the restaurant employers targeted for investigation and other efforts to punish and correct WH Law violations under the Restaurant Enforcement Initiative through 2017 in an October 5, 2016 WHD News Release: Significant Violations In The Austin Restaurant Industry Raise Concerns For Us Labor Department Officials (News Release).

The News Release quotes Administrator Weil as stating:

The current level of noncompliance found in these investigations is not acceptable …WHD will continue to use every tool we have available to combat this issue. This includes vigorous enforcement as well as outreach to employer associations and worker advocates to ensure that Austin restaurant workers receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

Given the substantial back pay, interest, civil or in the case of willful violations, criminal penalties, costs of defense and prosecution and other sanctions that restaurant employers, their owners and management can face if their restaurant is caught violating FLSA or other WH Laws, restaurants and their leaders should arrange for a comprehensive review within the scope of attorney-client privilege of the adequacy and defensibility of their existing policies, practices and documentation for classifying, assigning duties, tracking regular and overtime hours, paying workers and other WH Law compliance responsibilities and opportunities to mitigate risks and liabilities from WH Law claims and investigations.

Many Restaurants Already Nailed Through Restaurant Enforcement Initiative

Even before the planned 2017 expansion of its Restaurant Enforcement Initiative, WHD’s enforcement record shows WHD’s efforts to find and punish restaurants that violate WH Laws are highly successful. Restaurant employers overwhelmingly are the employers targeted by WHD in the vast majority of the WH Law settlements and prosecutions announced in WHD News Releases published over the past two years, including aggregate back pay and penalty awards of more than $11.4 million recovered through the following 31 actions announced by WHD between January 1, 2016 and October 31, 2016:

Enforcement Actions Highlight Common Restaurant WH Law Compliance Concerns

Restaurant employers, like employers in most other industries, are subject to a host of minimum wage, overtime and other requirements including the FLSA requirement that covered, nonexempt employees earn at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all regular 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 are required to maintain accurate time and payroll records and must comply with child labor, anti-retaliation and other WH Law requirements.

The News Release identified some of the common violations WHD uncovered in these investigations included employers:

  • Requiring employees to work exclusively for tips, with no regard to minimum-wage standards;
  • Making illegal deductions from workers’ wages for walkouts, breakages, credit card transaction fees and cash register shortages, which reduce wages below the required minimum wage;
  • Paying straight-time wages for overtime hours worked.
  • Calculating overtime incorrectly for servers based on their $2.13 per hour base rates before tips, instead of the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
  • Failing to pay proper overtime for salaried non-exempt cooks or other workers;
  • Creating illegal tip pools involving kitchen staff;
  • Failing to maintain accurate and thorough records of employees’ wages and work hours.
  • Committing significant child labor violations, such as allowing minors to operate and clean hazardous equipment, including dough mixers and meat slicers.

Use Care To Verify Tipped Employees Paid Properly

Based on the reported violations, restaurants employing tipped employees generally will want to carefully review their policies, practices and records regarding their payment of tipped employees. Among other things, these common violations reflect a widespread misunderstanding or misapplication of special rules for calculating the minimum hourly wage that a restaurant must pay an employee that qualifies as a tipped employee.  While special FLSA rules for tipped employees may permit a restaurant to claim tips (not in excess of $5.12 per hour) actually received and retained by a “tipped employee,” not all workers that receive tips are necessarily covered by this special rule. For purposes of this rule, the definition of “tipped employee” only applies to an employee who customarily and regularly receives more than $30 per month in tips.

Also, contrary to popular perception, the FLSA as construed by the WHD does not set the minimum wage for tipped employees at $2.13 per hour. On the contrary, the FLSA requirement that non-exempt workers be paid at least the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for each regular hour worked also applies to tipped employees. When applicable, the special rule for tipped employees merely only allows an employer to claim the amount of the tips that the restaurant can prove the tipped employee actually received and retained (not in excess of $5.13 per hour) as a credit against the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour the FLSA otherwise would require the employer to pay the tipped employee. Only tips actually received by the employee may be counted in determining whether the employee is a tipped employee and in applying the tip credit.  If a tipped employee earns less than $5.13 per hour in tips, the restaurant must be able to demonstrate that the combined total of the tips retained by the employee and the hourly wage otherwise paid to the tipped employee by the restaurant equaled at least the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Furthermore, restaurant or other employers claiming a tip credit must keep in mind that the FLSA generally provides that tips are the property of the employee. The FLSA generally prohibits an employer from using an employee’s tips for any reason other than as a credit against its minimum wage obligation to the employee (“tip credit”) or in furtherance of a valid tip pool.

Also, whether for purposes of applying the tip credit rules or other applicable requirements of the FLSA and other wage and hour laws, restaurant employers must create and retain appropriate records and other documentation regarding worker age, classification, hours worked, tips and other compensation paid and other evidence necessary to defend their actions with respect to tipped or other employees under the FLSA and other WH Law rules. Beyond accurately and reliably capturing all of the documentation required to show proper payment in accordance with the FLSA, restaurants also should use care to appropriately document leave, discipline and other related activities as necessary to show compliance with anti-retaliation, equal pay, family and medical leave, and other mandates, as applicable.  Since state law also may impose additional minimum leave, break time or other requirements, restaurants also generally will want to review their policies, practices and records to verify their ability to defend their actions under those rules as well.

Child Labor Rules Require Special Care When Employing Minors

While hiring workers under the age of 18 (minors) can help a restaurant fulfill its staffing needs while providing young workers valuable first time or other work experience, restaurants that hire minors must understand and properly comply with any restrictions on the duties, work hours or other requirements for employment of the minor imposed by federal or state child labor laws.

As a starting point, the legal requirements for employing minors generally greater, not less, than those applicable to the employment of an adult in the same position.  Employers employing workers who are less than 18 years of age (minors) should not assume that the employer can pay the minor less than minimum wage or skip complying with other legal requirements that normally apply to the employment of an adult in that position by employing the minor in an “internship” or other special capacity. The same federal and state minimum wage, overtime, safety and health and nondiscrimination rules that generally apply to the employment of an adult generally will apply to its employment of a worker who is a minor.

Beyond complying with the rules for employment of adults, restaurants employing minors also must ensure that they fully comply with all applicable requirements for the employment of minors imposed under the FLSA child labor rules and applicable state law enacted to ensure that when young people work, the work is safe and does not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities.   Depending on the age of the minor, the FLSA or state child labor rules may necessitate that a restaurant tailor the duties and hours of work of an employee who is a minor to avoid the substantial liability that can result when an employer violates one of these child labor rules.

The FLSA child labor rules, for instance, impose various special requirements for the employment of youth 14 to 17 years old. See here.  As a starting point, the FLSA child labor rules prohibit the any worker less than 18 years of age from operating or cleaning dough mixers, meat slicers or other hazardous equipment. Depending on the age of the minor worker, the FLSA child labor rules or state child labor laws also may impose other restrictions on the duties that the restaurant can assign or allow the minor to perform.  Restaurants hiring any worker that is a minor must evaluate the duties identified as hazardous “occupations” that the FLSA child labor rules prohibit a minor of that age to perform here as an “occupation” and take the necessary steps to ensure the minor is not assigned and does not perform any of those prohibited activities in the course of his employment.

In addition to ensuring that minors don’t perform prohibited duties, restaurants employing minors also comply with all applicable restrictions on the hours that the minor is permitted to work based on the age of the minor worker.  For instance, the FLSA and state child labor rules typically prohibit scheduling a minor less than 16 years of age to work during school hours and restrict the hours outside school hours the minor can work based on his age.  Additional restrictions on the types of jobs and hours 14- and 15-year-olds may work also may apply.

Compliance with the FLSA child labor rules is critically important for any restaurant or other employer that employs a minor, particularly since the penalties for violation of these requirements were substantially increased in 2010, as Streets Seafood Restaurant learned earlier this year.

According to a WHD News Release, Street’s Seafood Restaurant paid $14,288 in minimum wage and overtime back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages totaling $28,577 to eight employees, and also was assessed a civil money penalty of $14,125 for FLSA child labor violations committed in the course of its employment of four minors ages 15 to 17. Specifically, investigators found Street’s Seafood Restaurant:

WHD’s announcement of the settlement resolving these child labor laws quotes Kenneth Stripling, director of the division’s Birmingham District Office as stating:

Employing young people provides valuable experience, but that experience must never come at the expense of their safety …Additionally, employers have an obligation to pay employees what they have legally earned. All workers deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Unfortunately, Street’s Seafood violated not only child labor laws, but has also shorted workers’ pay. The resolution of this case sends a strong message that we will not tolerate either of those behaviors.

Restaurants Must Act To Minimize Risks

Beyond WHD’s direct enforcement actions, WHD also is seeking to encourage private enforcement of WH Law violations by conducting an aggressive outreach to employees, their union and private plaintiff representatives, states and others. Successful plaintiffs in private actions typically recover actual back pay, double damage penalties plus attorneys’ fees and costs. The availability of these often lucrative private damages makes FLSA and other WH Law claims highly popular to disgruntled or terminated workers and their lawyers.  When contemplating options to settle claims WH Law claims made by a worker, employers need to keep in mind that WHD takes the position that settlements with workers do not bar the WHD from taking action unless the WHD joins in the settlement and in fact, past settlements may provide evidence of knowingness or willfulness by the employer in the event of a WHD prosecution.  The substantial private recoveries coupled with these and other WHD enforcement and other compliance actions mean bad news for restaurant employers that fail to manage their FLSA and other WH Law compliance.  Restaurant employers should act within the scope of attorney-client privilege to review and verify their compliance and consult with legal counsel about other options to minimize their risk and streamline and strengthen their ability to respond to and defend against audits, investigations and litigation.

Beyond verifying the appropriateness of their timekeeping and compensation activities and documentation, restaurants and staffing or management organizations working with them also should use care to mitigate exposures that often arise from missteps or overly aggressive conduct by others providing or receiving management services or staffing services. All parties to these arrangements and their management should keep in mind that both parties participating in such arrangements bear significant risk if responsibilities are not properly performed.   Both service and staffing providers and restaurants using their services should insist on carefully crafted commitments from the other party to properly classify, track hours, calculate and pay workers, keep records, and otherwise comply with WH Laws and other legal requirements.  Parties to these arrangements both generally also will want to insist that these contractual reassurances are backed up with meaningful audit and indemnification rights and carefully monitor the actions of service providers rendering these services.

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 and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, 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. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares shared her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including 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, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Board Compliance Chair and Board member of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, 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, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment, employee benefits, compensation, and other regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include the “Texas Payday Law” Chapter of Texas Employment Law, as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other 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. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at http://www.solutionslawpress.com such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.