WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor has renewed a multi-year nationwide initiative to help workers and increase federal compliance by food service employers, an industry where – in fiscal year 2021 – the department’s Wage and Hour Division found violations in nearly 85 percent of its restaurant investigations.

These investigations led the division to recover more than $34.7 million in back wages for more than 29,000 workers and to assess employers with $3.2 million in penalties.

The food service workers initiative combines enforcement with outreach and education to raise awareness of the types of pay practices and other actions by employers that most commonly violate the Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal labor laws. These violations include those related to the federal minimum wage, overtime pay, tips, employing child labor, and making illegal wage deductions. The effort will encourage employers and workers to learn more about the protections and assistance the Wage and Hour Division offers.

“Food service industry workers are among our nation’s lowest paid essential workers and they depend on every dollar they earn to help provide for themselves and their families,” explained Wage and Hour Division Acting Administrator Jessica Looman. “Wage and Hour Division investigations find far too many employers are denying employees their rightful wages or violating other legal protections, making it much more difficult for these workers to make ends meet.

The department recently published new resources addressing retaliation against employees who assert their workplace rights or cooperate with investigations by the Wage and Hour Division. Retaliation by employers often prevents these vulnerable workers from exercising their workplace rights under the FLSA, which ensures they are paid the wages they are owed.

“Our initiative will also focus on combatting retaliation by employers against workers who report violations, or who cooperate with federal investigations, a troubling aspect of some of our investigations,” Looman added.

The division’s Essential Workers, Essential Protections initiative provides resources and information for essential workers. It also offers resources for employers to help them avoid the costly consequences of non-compliance with federal laws governed by the division.

Workers and employers can call the division confidentially with questions. The department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages through the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, and its search tool if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.

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