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Central Florida Restaurant Owner Owes Employees More Than $83k

It is unfortunate to see restaurant owners take advantage of the employees who work so hard for them, though it is satisfying to see justice served in these situations.

In a recent article reported by the Miami Herald and the Department of Labor, justice was served when Rios Rodriguez Enterprises Inc. (Rios) —the owner of five Central Florida restaurants—was found to owe 91 of his employees a total of $83,577 in unpaid wages stemming from minimum wage violations, unpaid overtime, and recordkeeping violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In addition to the unpaid wages, the Department of Labor (DOL) exacted a $21,255 civil penalty on the owner for repeated violations.

Minimum Wage Violations

Investigations revealed that Rios failed to pay his tipped employees the federal minimum wage for the hours that they worked. The DOL states that an employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 per hour in direct wages if that amount combined with the tips received at least equals the federal minimum wage. If the employees’ tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 per hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.

Overtime Violations

Rios believed that paying his cooks a “flat salary” would allow him to disregard the number of hours they worked, resulting in overtime violations. Employers often make this mistake, not realizing that salaried positions may still be nonexempt and entitled to overtime pay.

The FLSA provides that employees must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rate. (i.e. $10 per hour standard pay, $15 per hour overtime pay). Rios attempted to circumvent this obligation by only paying overtime for hours worked over 80 in two workweeks. Sadly, this practice is all too common, allowing employers to keep an employee who might have worked 45 hours in one week and 35 hours in another, to miss out on five hours of rightfully earned overtime.

Recordkeeping Violations and Civil Penalties

The DOL’s investigation of Rios found recordkeeping violations in violation of the FLSA which states that employers must keep accurate records of every nonexempt employees’ hours worked, wages earned, deductions withheld, and more.

Surprisingly, this was not Rios’ first rodeo, a 2013 DOL investigation of hisAgave Azul Mexican Cuisine Restaurant in Orlando found similar violations, resulting in the imposition of a hefty civil penalty for being a repeat offender.

Don’t Be a Victim

The Department of Labor is a fine agency that helps many employees. However, it does not have the resources to investigate every claim. Fortunately, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows employees to hire their own attorney and bring a private action against their employer. The FLSA also requires employers to pay the attorney’s fees of employees who make successful claims for back wages. That makes it easier for employees to obtain representation when they have been misclassified or simply denied payment of the full wages to which they are lawfully entitled.

If you work for a restaurant that classified you as an independent contractor or that failed to pay you a premium overtime wage when you worked more than 40 hours per week, or if you work for “tips only”, or if you are paid a salary regardless of the hours that you work, you may be entitled to back wages. Federal law prohibits retaliation against employees who make wage claims. Contact an experienced Florida wage and hour lawyer at Robert S. Norell, P.A. to learn how your rights can be protected. At Robert S. Norell, P.A., we help workers recover their wages and will also help workers who have been retaliated against by their employer after requesting to be paid properly. Call (954) 617-6017 today for a free case evaluation.

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