Server and Bartender Wage Violations: Know Your Rights

Dec 8 2017

Across the country, most jobs require the employer to pay a set minimum hourly wage. In Connecticut, that minimum wage is $10.10 per hour worked, not including tax. However, the minimum wage does not apply to every job. Among the most common employees who are not guaranteed the minimum wage from their employers are tipped restaurant workers, such as servers. These employees are only entitled to be paid the lower “service minimum wage.” In theory, the rest of their income comes from tips.

Tipped workers can make a good living. In some cases, being a restaurant server in a major city can be extremely profitable. For many servers, though, tipped work barely allows them to support themselves and their families.

For employers, the service industry can be extremely lucrative too. In 2016, the restaurant industry accounted for $766 billion in sales. Unfortunately, that money hasn’t trickled down to the industry’s line employees. The median annual wage for a server is less than $22,000. That’s $8,000 less than the median salary across all occupations.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) entitles most servers to earn overtime wages, which helps increase employees’ annual income significantly. However, the ability to earn overtime is undermined on a daily basis by employers who try to circumvent the law. Here are some common restaurant wage violations you should be on the look for:

  • Applying “service minimum wage” too broadly: In Connecticut, only employees “whose duties relate solely to the serving of food and/or beverages to patrons seated at tables or booths, and to the performance of duties incidental to such service” are eligible to be paid the lower “service minimum wage.” This does not include bartenders, bus staff, or kitchen staff.
  • Not paying properly for “side work”: Most servers have to do some type of side work when they aren’t performing their primary jobs. This can include cleaning, washing or drying dishes, preparing food, refilling dispensers, or rolling silverware in napkins. Under Connecticut law, time spent on side work must be “segregated” and “recorded,” and the employee is entitled to the full state-established minimum wage for that time. If the side work is not separated and the time for doing so written down, the employer may not utilize the tip credit and must pay the full minimum wage for all hours worked.
  • Improper documentation: In order to pay the lower “service minimum wage” in Connecticut, the employer must “obtain weekly a statement signed by the employee attesting that he has received in gratuities the amount claimed as credit for part of the minimum fair wage.”
  • Pooling tips for non-tipped employees: Pooling tips is legal only when tip-earning workers get part of the money. No matter what, managers aren’t allowed to receive part of the money. It’s a violation of federal law.
  • Misclassification: In a past article, we discussed the misclassification of employees so they don’t earn proper overtime pay. This applies here, as servers, bartenders, and other non-managerial restaurant staff should never be classified as exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime protections.

These are just some of the common wage violations that can be found in the restaurant business.

If you are an employee who has experienced one or more of these violations, contact the experienced employment attorneys at Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. to understand your rights.

And if you own or run a restaurant that is concerned with following federal and Connecticut wage and hour law, contact us for advice about how you can ensure that you are complying with all of the law’s complex requirements.

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