SANIBEL, FL –Restaurant workers such as servers and bartenders depend on tips to supplement their low hourly wages, so when a Sanibel Island eatery required its workers to contribute to an unlawful tip pool, the restaurant made it even harder for them to make ends meet.

An investigation of Island Cow Inc. by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has recovered $222,432 in back wages for 48 workers.

The division’s investigators determined Island Cow violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by operating an unlawful tip pool, which required tipped employees to share earnings with non-tipped workers, including dishwashing assistants and kitchen expeditors. The employer also classified cooks, a bookkeeper and a bar manager incorrectly as exempt from overtime requirements, and paid them flat salaries regardless of the number of hours they worked. By doing so, Island Cow violated the FLSA when it failed to pay these workers overtime when they exceeded 40 hours in a workweek. The employer also failed to maintain accurate records of the number of hours employees worked and of the wages paid to workers, violating FLSA recordkeeping requirements.

“Front-line employees in the food service industry deserve to be paid all the hard-earned wages they have earned,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Nicolas Ratmiroff in Tampa, Florida. “The law allows the employers of tipped workers to use those tips as a credit towards the employee’s wages, but only if they meet all the legal requirements. Employers must also understand that paying an employee a flat salary does not automatically make them exempt from overtime. We hope the results of this investigation encourage other employers to review their own pay practices, and to ensure they comply with the law. They can avoid violations like those found in this case.”

The division offers numerous resources to ensure employers have the tools they need to understand their responsibilities and to comply with federal law, such as online videos and confidential calls to local Wage and Hour Division offices. Learn more about the FLSA. Contact the Wage and Hour Division toll-free at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) for more information.

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