DOL finds more than $1.3 million in back wages due to Mass. employees

After an ongoing enforcement initiative centered on Massachusetts’ restaurant industry, the U.S. Department of Labor has found significant violations of the minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and investigations by the Boston District Office of the DOL's Wage and Hour Division are ordering a payment of $1,307,808 in back wages to 478 employees of multiple establishments.

"The restaurant industry employs some of our country's lowest-paid workers who are vulnerable to exploitation," says Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "In response to the extensive level of noncompliance we discovered, we will expand our efforts to bring the industry into compliance to ensure that employees receive the minimum wage and overtime wages required by law."

"Our investigations found that several restaurants violated the FLSA by paying employees flat salaries for all hours worked without overtime pay, failing to combine hours worked at multiple locations for overtime purposes, paying incorrect overtime rates to tipped employees, making illegal deductions from employees' wages and failing to keep accurate records of employees' hours," says George A. Rioux, district director of the Wage and Hour Division in Boston. "Even more serious, our investigations found an emerging trend of misclassifying restaurant workers as independent contractors in order to avoid minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping requirements of the FLSA."

Restaurants that underpaid their workers include 15 Not Your Average Joe's restaurants in Greater Boston and eastern Massachusetts; six Science Partners restaurants in Cambridge and Boston, including Miracle of Science, Middlesex Lounge and Tory Row; Metropolitan Club restaurants in Chestnut Hill, Dedham and Natick; Noon Hill Grill in Medfield; T.G.I. Friday's in Framingham; Fresh City restaurants in Burlington, Needham Heights, Newton Upper Falls and Woburn; and Paul W. Marks in Everett.

Earlier cases include D'Ann's Restaurant Inc., doing business as D'Ann's in Abington; 1760 Society Inc., doing business as The Sherborn Inn and The Sherborn Out in Sherborn; and Buchhalter Ltd., doing business as The Upper Crust Pizzeria in Salem. The DOL says all establishments have vowed full compliance with the FLSA and have paid or are in the process of paying their employees.

The Wage and Hour Division has also calculated a total of $295,108 in liquidated damages against Massachusetts restaurants, and when necessary, it will assess civil money penalties against employers payable to the government and require back wages and liquidated damages.

Under FLSA, employers must pay employees at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour along with time and one-half their regular rates for every hour they work past 40 per week. Employers must also keep accurate records of employees' wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and they are not allowed to retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under the law. FLSA mandates that employers that violate the law are responsible for paying back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages.

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