HOUSTON – The operators of three Houston-area Texas buffet BBQ restaurants that shortchanged its workers’ wages repeatedly by failing to pay them overtime when required has paid $40,043 in back wages to 179 workers, following a recent federal investigation.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found Harris County Smokehouse Restaurant – operated by Chambers Foods Inc. and Fine Texas Food LLC – violated the Fair Labor Standards Act when it failed to pay overtime when employees worked beyond 40 in a workweek. Investigators also found the employer included managers in its tip pool, another FLSA violation. Federal law prohibits an employer from keeping tips received by its workers for any purposes, including allowing managers or supervisors to keep any portion of other employees’ tips, regardless of whether or not the employer takes a tip credit.

The investigation covered Harris County Smokehouse’s three locations in Cy-Fair, Katy and Tomball.

 In addition to the wage violations, the division determined the employer also violated federal child labor laws when it employed five minors – ages 14 and 15 – in violation of FLSA child labor hours regulations. The young employees worked more than 8 hours per day and more than 40 hour per week during non-school periods, and more than 3 hours daily and 18 hours weekly during school weeks, all FLSA violations. The employer also allowed minors to work before 7 a.m. and later than 7 p.m. between Labor Day and June 1, and continue working past 9 p.m. between June 1 and Labor Day – all child labor violations.

The division assessed Harris County Smokehouse with $3,455 in civil money penalties for its child labor violations.

“Harris County Steakhouse failed in its responsibility to pay workers all of their hard-earned wages and ignored federal child labor laws by requiring 14- and 15-year-olds to work well past the allowable limits,” said Wage and Hour District Director Robin Mallett in Houston. “Our investigation has recovered the wages these workers should have been paid, stopped minor-aged workers from being exploited and held the employer accountable for its failures to comply with the law.”

For more information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the division, contact the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division. Workers can call the division confidentially with questions – regardless of their immigration status – and the department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages.

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