Restaurant Employment and Labor Laws


bartender pouring a draft beer In the United States, there are employment and labor laws that govern all businesses when it comes to the treatment of employees. The U.S. Department of Labor prescribes regulations to protect workers’ rights, specifically those who are young or those may become victims of discrimination.

There are several laws that regulate employers in the U.S. The law that are most important to businesses in the restaurant industry are the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Along with state laws, these laws to maintain minimum wage, overtime pay and recordkeeping and youth employment standards for Federal, State and local governments, as well as the private sector. It also protects minors by restricting the kind of work they can engage in, as well as the number of hours they are allowed to work. Some of the regulations are as follows:

Minimum wage. Minimum wage is the lowest pay rate businesses can legally pay their employees. As of July 24, 2008, minimum wage is $6.55 per hour. It is expected to rise again in July 2009.

Overtime pay. Overtime pay applies to all hourly workers who work over 40 hours in one week. An hourly employee’s overtime pay rates must be no less than 1½ times the regular rate of pay.

Recordkeeping. This requires employers to display official FLSA requirements for employees to reference. This is usually accomplished by hanging up an FLSA poster, which is available in six languages. Additionally, hours worked and pay received must be recorded for each employee.

  • The child receives a work permit (in some states)
  • The work is non-hazardous
  • They work no more than 3 hours on a school day or 8 on a non-school day (18 hours a week maximum)

Exemptions to the rule include youths who deliver newspapers, babysit or perform minor chores in a private home, perform in television, movies, theatre or work in businesses their parents own, including family-owned farms. Hazardous work is not allowed whether in a family-owned business or not. In the restaurant, there are regulations as to what job functions youths under 16 can usually perform. Those under 16 are typically not allowed to do the following jobs:

  • Complex cooking or baking duties (except at snack bars or cafeteria serving counters)
  • Operating, assembling, taking apart, cleaning or repairing power-driven slicers, grinders, choppers, cutters or mixers
  • Operating pressurized fryers or rotisseries
  • Working in meat-coolers

Those under 16 typically engage in the following types of restaurant work:

There are additional regulations for those under 18. Workers under 18 are usually not allowed to drive an automobile for work purposes, especially for urgent deliveries or driving at night. Those under 18 also cannot serve alcohol in the restaurant. When workers reach the age of 18, federal labor laws as designated by the FLSA no longer apply.

Regulations regarding hours worked can change from state to state. Check both federal and state requirements when determining which labor laws apply to your area.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)


This act requires employers to provide a safe and healthful working environment. OSHA exists to prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths related to the work-place. OSHA requires all employers to abide by the following requirements in the workplace:

  • Provide a Hazard Communication program to all employees
  • Provide proper training to all employees
  • Provide appropriate protective gear to employees
  • Provide a first aid kit in the workplace
  • Display posters from the Department of Labor or the state labor department informing employees of protections and rights

OSHA standards work in tandem with FLSA regulations to ensure a safe and healthful workplace for all employees, including youths. For instance, OSHA regulates the following aspects of the restaurant industry:

Required rest periods. Rest periods during working shifts are required, although the frequency and length can differ between locations. In Colorado, for instance, a 10 minute rest period is required for every four hours worked.

Required meal periods. Like rest periods, there are required meal periods for longer shifts. One example is a required half hour meal period for every five hours worked in the restaurant.

U.S.Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The EEOC protects workers from workplace discrimination. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), it is illegal to discriminate based on any of the following criteria:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion

Additionally, workers cannot be discriminated against in the following facets of employment:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Compensating, assigning, classifying
  • Job advertisements or recruiting
  • Testing
  • Use of company facility
  • Training programs
  • Benefits programs

Employees have a right to be free from retaliation if they do file for discrimination, and are protected from harassment in any form, including sexual harassment. Employers must post notices to all employees advising them of their rights under these laws.


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  1. My son is employed at a small resturant in Travelers Rest, SC. He is generally scheduled a shift 4pm-10:30 or 11. He has worked there over six months and has NEVER been given any type of break. I was employed at Publix so I know there are laws against working minors over 5 hours without a break. Can you please give me some insight on this situation and if there is anything that can be done about it.
    Thank you!

  2. What are the laws concerning hiring people as servers and bartenders over the age of 50? I just read on an application that the company does not discriminate against age, but then it said something to the effect “according to the Restaurant Labor Laws.” Does this mean that restaurants can discriminate concerning age or not?

  3. Hello,
    My wife works at UNO pizzeria & grill in Massachusetts , this location is ripe for an investigation into their labor practices by the ever changing management train. My question is this, if my wife works a double ( open to close) how many breaks for rest or food is she entitled to ? Also, if she takes a very short break of less than a half hour , can the restaurant change her schedule for that day ? ( (there are 12 servers who all get cut at different times- my wife was scheduled to be cut #1 but since she took a break they moved her back to 3rd) this is typical behavior at this location.
    Thank you for your time,

  4. I was given a $500 tip on a credit card from some generous big wig, & my employer is refusing to charge the card because of a personal restaurant policy he claims he put into effect a year ago because of something that happened. Is that legal? i was never informed of such a policy but as a server shouldnt i be aware of any & all policies that coincide with my work? Is he legally obligated to have told me the policies beforehand?
    Any information helps, thank you.

  5. My 18 year old daughter just got promoted to shift lead. She is responsible for the closing procedures of a sub shop. Her duties include taking care of the cash register and deposits at the end of the night. No other employees are there with her, and her safety is an issue. Are there any laws That protect the safety of employees at closing, or is a company policy.

  6. I currently 21 work at a restuarant for 1 1/2 years as bus person and have not been moved up, recently found out from other co workers it’s because they said I sued them, and I have lawyers, smh I haven’t gotten any money yet and it’s a workers comp case because I got injured inside the kitchen their fault and I’m getting harassed by shift leaders daily is there anything I can do?

    • Nicole Castellano
      Nicole Castellano on

      Tj- I’m sorry to hear about your current situation. Unfortunately we don’t have the knowledge base for a case as specific as yours. I would recommend talking to your lawyer, and maybe even look up your labor law phone number for your city.

      • I’m sorry I didn’t know where else to post to ask a question about my employer….maybe someone can help me…I’ve already looked it up went to websites and googled everything I could and haven’t found anything on training in a restaurant…are they allowed in the state of Texas to not pay me for training? I even delivered alcohol and my TABC license expired on September 2, 2015…so is this legal? I worked training 12.50 hrs…

        • Nicole Castellano
          Nicole Castellano on

          Melissa- I wish I was able to help more, but I don’t know the answer to your specific situation. Most places are suppose to pay for training. I would keep looking into the laws within Texas.

  7. Is it illegal to not get paid for training in a restaurant as a bartender ? I had asked the owner if they were hiring. She said yes but didn’t know where to put me on the schedule. (Her intentions were to fire the girl that worked the shifts she wanted me to have) The owner had me come in and train 3 shifts.
    Here I knew that girl outside of the restaurant she wanted to fire. After I mentioned that to the owner, she told me she’d call me to be put on the schedule. 3 weeks later and no return phone call from the 3 times I called her. I’m assuming I’m not going on the schedule. Should I be getting paid for the 3 shifts I trained or not ?

    • Nicole Castellano
      Nicole Castellano on

      Typically you should be getting paid for any training shifts. If I were you I would keep trying to get a hold of the owner. Good luck Jenn!

  8. Looking to find out what the “age requirement” is if any, to work in the kitchen of a fast food restaurant and use the fryers and grills.

  9. Hi I need to know is it legal for a restaurant manager to tell a server that I can’t have more than 4 shifts a week because it’s taking a toll on me? I am 50 yrs old and a white male in a fine dining restaurant. I get 3 to 4 shifts week and all the others receive 6 to 8 shifts.. I am in the top 2 % of 11 severs in sales and am super aggravated. …

  10. Is it illegal, in the state of WI, to take away an employees hours when they are sick?
    Ex. I am RARELY sick, I came down with a virus that has been going around our little city. I called in on a Sunday, mind you, I had a replacement in place, my boss told me he would take my other 3 days that week away from me. I work in a bar that also serves food.
    Also is it illegal for my boss to tell me I have to come in to work when I am sick?

  11. I’m 17 years old. Just turned 17. And I’ve been working in a restruant for 6 months and they just promotes me to manager. Like I will be the only manager on duty and I will close, deposit, money, everything. Is there any laws on this? I live in Tennessee. I just don’t want to start my new position then my owner get in trouble.

    • Nicole Castellano
      Nicole Castellano on

      Hello Daniel- Unfortunately we aren’t familiar with the specific laws in Tennessee. Might I suggest looking into your local labor laws for your state? Best of luck.

  12. Is it illegal in west Virginia to have someone working in a fast food kitchen who is not an employee? The gm has her husband working making/handing food. He is not in uniform nor is he on the payroll.

    • Nicole Castellano
      Nicole Castellano on

      If I were you I would contact your local health department and explain the situation to them. They should know exactly what to do.

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