Anyone working as a front-of-house staffer in a restaurant knows that it is anything but an easy job. The physicality of always being on your feet, the constant noise and stress, impatient tables and sometimes mediocre pay make being a server or similar position one of the most underappreciated service industry jobs. To make matters worse, some restaurants have shown a propensity for not always paying fairly.
You may have heard of this happening at several Houlihan’s restaurants across New York and New Jersey recently. The owner of 17 of these establishments had spent the last six years stealing wages and tips from employees.
Stolen wages, skimmed tips and unpaid hours
Asbury Park Press recently reported that these Houlihan’s owner, Arnold Runestad, had spent the last six years violating overtime and tipping laws put in place by the department of labor. He has finally agreed to pay $5 million in back wages as part of a settlement to nearly 1,500 employees.
Runestad used a variety of tricks to short employees their fair pay. One strategy was to have employees work at two different locations during the same week, then not combine their hours, thus avoiding overtime; bartenders were expected to work off the clock, resulting in never being paid for hours worked; and in early October 2013 management stole $207 worth of tips paid into the tip pool.
This settlement comes 3 years after the initial lawsuit was filed. While there may be variability, an even share of the $5 million settlement for each of the 1,471 employees would come to about $3,400 per person.
Speak up about unpaid overtime or stolen tips
Houlihan’s is just one example of a restaurant trying to short change their staff. This is a problem more common than most individuals realize. It is not uncommon for restaurant employers to:
- Trim minutes off employee start and stop times to avoid overtime
- Illegally require employees to purchase their uniforms
- Illegally pay less than minimum wage, especially for immigrant employees
- Require employees to work off the clock
- Skim small amounts of employee tips each day
These are all examples of wage theft, and they are all against the law. If you have experienced any of these situations, or have noticed bizarre dedications on your paycheck, do not hesitate to speak to a professional.
Holding businesses accountable for their unlawful actions is not only good for the community, it is also your right as an employee to receive your fair pay.