Report Shows Many Charleston Restaurants Violate Labor Laws
An investigative report into restaurants in Charleston, SC shows that the city’s dining establishments routinely violate labor laws.
Since 2004, 34 restaurants in Charleston have been cited for violating protective labor laws, including forcing cooks to work off the clock, doctoring time cards, withholding overtime payment, and skimming money from servers’ tips. The labor law violations could come from ignorance, or could be an attempt to sidestep a kitchen staffing crises in the city.
The US Department of Labor calculated that Charleston-area restaurants annually collect half a billion dollars in revenue, but at least 34 restaurants shorted their staff $388,067 cumulatively over the past decade.
In the past, there has been little oversight at the federal or state level of wage and labor violations in the restaurant industry, which is a national problem. However, the US Department of Labor has stepped up oversight and begun auditing numerous restaurants, including several in South Carolina.
“We find a lot of violations in the restaurant industry,” says Jamie Benefiel, district director for the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage & Hour’s district office in Columbia. “Typically, they don’t calculate overtime or pay overtime at all.”
Benefiel estimates about 80% of restaurants investigated by her office break wage and overtime laws.
However, some restaurateurs argue that labor laws are at odds with professional development for chefs.
“If an individual voluntarily elects to come into work early or stay late to learn and observe, this can contradict labor laws, because the moment they stop observing and participate, it requires compensation,” says David Howard, president of the Neighborhood Dining Group, the parent company of Husk and McCrady’s. “I believe it is a mistake to stifle the desire and craving for education.”
The restaurant industry prizes unpaid work from chefs, and routinely abuses laws allowing tips to be considered part of hourly pay for servers in order to pay them less than minimum wage. Chefs are encouraged to “stage,” or intern, unpaid at restaurants to gain more experience, even though unpaid internships are technically illegal, unless the internship is structured around specific criteria.
“In South Carolina, we’re the only enforcement agency,” says district director Benefiel. “We’ve had very little enforcement in South Carolina for a long time.”
“We basically complained to each other and not to management,” recalls a former Husk cook who was on the restaurant’s opening team in 2010. “There wasn’t really a choice. We were working at the most famous new restaurant in the country, and there was a ton of pressure on us.”
One practice at restaurant Toast showed that some downtown restaurants adjusted employee time cards after the employees had correctly clocked all of their time. The Department of Labor documented the practice at Toast, which was ordered to pay $27,614 for 155 violations of labor laws.
Some restaurants also required employees to purchase specific items of clothing to work in the store. In the case of The Macintosh, servers were required to purchase $125 khaki vests from J. Crew, arguing that the clothing was technically street-wear. However, the expensive clothing brought servers’ hourly wage well below minimum, even with tips.
Filing A South Carolina Labor Law Violations Lawsuit Can Be Tricky
When filing a complaint against your employer for labor violations including lost wages and mis-tracked hours, you may want to enlist the help of a South Carolina wage payment attorney. Understanding overtime laws can be daunting. The South Carolina employment attorneys at the Strom Law Firm, LLC can help you interpret labor laws and settle any labor violations you have witnessed or experienced. Many overtime claim cases are won because the employer failed to keep adequate wage and hour records. The Strom Law Firm will investigate all aspects of your labor violations claim, and seek to secure you the compensation you have rightfully earned. Call us today for a free, confidential consultation. 803.252.4800.