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Press Releases

U.S. Department of Labor
Wage and Hour Division
Release Number: 11-1659-ATL (560)

Date: 

Dec. 1, 2011

Contact: 

Michael D'Aquino or Michael Wald

Phone: 

(404) 562-2076 or (404) 562-2078

US Labor Department initiative nets more than $682,000 in back wages, penalties for labor law violations affecting 271 South Florida restaurant workers


Wage and Hour Division enforcement efforts protect workers, educate employers

MIAMI -- An ongoing enforcement initiative conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division targeting full-service buffet restaurants in South Florida has found consistent and widespread noncompliance with the minimum wage, overtime, and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In fiscal year 2011, the division completed 34 investigations of these establishments, recovering $667,704 in back wages for 271 restaurant employees. In addition, the division has assessed $14,520 in civil money penalties against employers for willful and/or repeated FLSA violations.

Under this initiative, investigators from the division's Miami District Office – many of whom speak languages in addition to English, such as Haitian Creole, Mandarin or Spanish – are investigating full-service buffet restaurants to identify patterns of child labor, minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping violations, and to remind workers of their rights under the FLSA. Thorough inspections of payroll records and employment practices, as well as employee interviews, are being conducted to ensure compliance. When violations are found, the division is using all enforcement tools available – including litigation, civil money penalty assessments and liquidated damages – to ensure accountability and deter future violations.

Common FLSA violations found during these investigations include paying cash wages "off the books," rather than maintaining legally required employment records; requiring employees to work exclusively for tips or paying a fixed salary for all hours worked, without regard to minimum wage and overtime requirements; managers participating in the tip pool; and falsifying employees' time and payroll records.

"Our ongoing enforcement efforts in South Florida's restaurant industry have revealed an alarming culture of noncompliance resulting from unlawful pay practices," said Will Garnitz, director of the Wage and Hour Division's district office in Miami. "However, we are encouraged by the success of our initiative and will continue to focus on protecting the rights of restaurant workers, as well as ensuring a level playing field for the honest employers in this industry who play by the rules and pay fair wages."

In addition to enforcement efforts, the division is conducting outreach to workers, community organizations, faith-based groups, employee representatives, local media outlets, foreign consulates and other stakeholders to inform them of the ongoing initiative and encourage their participation in promoting industrywide compliance. The division also is continuing to provide compliance assistance and education to employers and industry associations – such as the Florida Hospitality and Lodging Association, and the Chinese chambers of commerce – on all applicable wage and hour regulations, child labor restrictions and joint-employer responsibilities.

The FLSA requires the payment of at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 to covered, nonexempt employees for all hours worked. It also requires that employees receive time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Additionally, employers must maintain accurate time and payroll records.

In accordance with the FLSA, an employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. If an employee's tips combined with the employer's direct wages do not equal the minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. Employers may create a tip-pooling or sharing arrangement among employees who customarily and regularly receive tips, but a valid tip pool may not include employees who do not customarily and regularly receive tips, such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs and janitors. Finally, paycheck deductions for patrons who do not pay for their orders, broken dishes or cash register shortages are illegal if they reduce an employee's wages below the minimum wage.

For more information about the FLSA, call the Wage and Hour Division's Miami office at 305-279-8393, or its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information is also available on the Internet at http://www.dol.gov/whd.

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U.S. Department of Labor releases are accessible on the Internet at www.dol.gov. The information in this news release will be made available in alternate format (large print, Braille, audio tape or disc) from the COAST office upon request. Please specify which news release when placing your request at (202) 693-7828 or TTY (202) 693-7755. The Labor Department is committed to providing America’s employers and employees with easy access to understandable information on how to comply with its laws and regulations. For more information, please visit www.dol.gov/compliance.