Employer: Freshore Hospitality, LLC doing business as Willows Inn on Lummi Island
Site: 2579 West Shore Drive, Lummi Island, Washington
Investigation findings: U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigators found that Willows Inn violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay overtime and minimum wage to its employees. The restaurant required entry-level kitchen staff known in the industry as “stages” to work one month as a free try-out period before they were considered for paid employment. Once on the payroll, the kitchen workers were paid daily rates from $50 per day for up to 14 hours per day with no consideration of weekly overtime premium.
Resolution: Willows Inn reached a settlement with the department in which the company agreed to pay $74,812 in unpaid overtime to 19 kitchen workers and an equal amount in damages, totaling $149,624 for the employees. The company also canceled its “stage program” and agreed to comply with federal wage laws in the future.
Quote: “We hope this case can educate others in the high-end restaurant world that “staging,” while common, is unfair to workers, and it is illegal,” said Jeanette Aranda, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s office in Seattle. “This case allows us to level the playing field for employers who play by the rules by complying with the law. We are dedicated to educating and protecting both workers and employers.”
Background: Recognized recently as one of the world’s best luxury farm stays, the Willows Inn on Lummi Island specializes in serving meals created from local Pacific Northwest ingredients. Like many restaurants, Willows Inn relied on “stages” (originates from the French word “stagiaire,” meaning trainee, apprentice or intern) to supply unpaid labor. The stages were asked to perform kitchen work including cleaning dishes, polishing silverware, collecting herbs, prepping vegetables and assembling dishes. The stages also devoted hours to cleaning facilities and painting the exterior of Willow Inn buildings.
Information: For more information about federal wage laws administered by division, call the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.