Restaurant Employment and Labor Laws

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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 (EEOC).

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, 2009 minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

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.

Disclaimer: FSW does not provide legal advice for foodservice businesses, or employees. If you have health or labor-related questions or concerns, please contact your state’s Health Department or Department of Labor and Employment.

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53 Comments

  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,
    Gregg

  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.

  13. How would one turn in a restaurant for letting minors serve alcohol? And not spitting tips equally? Serving a party of 30 some person…..two young girls serving. A tip of 300.00 to be split and he got involved and only gave one girl a$100.00 and the other girl got how much, who knows. I feel that is stealing.

  14. I am currently 19, and am a server in a small pizza resturant that also serves alcohol. The owners keep telling me they are going to promote me to a manager, but can’t promote me because I’m not 21 yet? My question is am I allowed to be a closing manager under the age of 21 in colorado? ? I can’t find anything about this anywhere!!

  15. My kitchen closes at 9 o’clock but my bar stays open till midnight am I allowed to serve liquor without serving food in Washington State

  16. I was hired at an upscale Italian restaurant a few months ago. I was the only new server to be hired in years and the only black server in the restaurant. I have five years experience and I am great with customers. The restaurant I worked for has no managers at all. Just the owner and the staff. The owner is rarely there so the employees run it themselves. After my week of training I was given my own section and am perfectly capable of handling a seven table section at any given time sometimes even better then fellow servers. Everyday there is usually a banquet of 30+ people and when I was hired I was told all tables and banquets are to be rotated throughout the servers. Day after day I was never given a banquet where honestly a huge portion of tips are made. I brought this to the attention of the head hostess who I was told about when I started. Co workers said if I get on her baD side my life would become hell because she has been there since the owner bought the place and he believes anything she tells him…I approached her and politely explained that I never get any banquets and every night I would leave with half the number of tables as other servers even though my service is excellent and I have had customers leave great remarks about Me to the front desk..after explaining this neglect to Kristen(head hostess) my tables were cut even more and in three months I was assigned to 2 banquets out 50+. Servers would leave with 200 to $300 and I would leave with $75 to $100. Kristen began calling me off up to two times a week. AN hour after voicing my concerns kristen pulls me aside and tells me to not ever come and tell her how many covers I have ever again and stormed off.the next day Kristen calls me in the office and says the owner Jeff is on the phone.. I pick up and its Jeff screaming at me telling me I’m harrasing his hostesses and its none of my F%## business how many tables I get and hung up on me after I insisted I never once raised my voice or said anything close to harassment. The next day I got a voicemail from Jeff calling me off and telling me I wasn’t happy there and its best if he just take me off the schedule completely. This right before the holidays.. I could not pay NY rent and I am no homeless and cannot provide gifts for my kids who now stay with there mom until I can get on my feet again. I was found eligible for unemployment but going from the $2.83 and hour it comes to $88 a week. To give insight on this place of work..the second week I was there a server passed around weed brownies to fellow employees right in front of customers. They all smoke marijuana right out the back door of the kitchen. They all stay after work at the bar and drink the restaurants liquor for free and also cook any food they want for themselves for free! No management and the business up for sale they wanted all the money for themselves and because I stood up for myself and asked about the way thongs were ran they retaliated by firing me just before Christmas . I never had a customer complaint never had any type of written or verbal warning of any wrong doing..is this legal and can I sue them? I have two witnesses one is a new prep lady who was hired shortly after me and a host girl who when she rarely was host by herself she actually gave me an equal amount of tables as everyone else..

  17. Hi I had a question, in California is there a law where it states that when the manager that supposed to open is 30 minutes late or doesn’t show up can we leave the restaurant and get payed for that day?

  18. HELP! Can any one please send me in the right direction.. Long story short, my co-worker and I both have over 2months of unpaid labor.. Around $200 in due tips that he is refusing to pay. We have obviously both quit however still owed. On top of that who do I contact for illegal activities.. Such as serving liqueur with no licence.. No food handlers card (and he’s the owner and cook).. The list goes on. Anything will help, I am in state of Nevada, thank you.

    • Nicole Castellano
      Nicole Castellano on

      Hello Ann- I’m very sorry to hear about this. My best suggestion would be to contact your local labor department and have them start an investigation. I hope this helps.

  19. Hi, my restaurant took my off the schedule because my TABC is expired. Is that means to fire someone? They haven’t said anything to me and took me off the schedule without warning.

  20. Tracy Williams on

    My daughter has been working @ a fast food restaurant for six months. If she is running a cash register,should she be allowed to count her draw out @ the end of her shift.She always counts her money back to the customers, but on 2 separate times the manager wouldn’t let count her draw 1st before the mgr took it & both times it can up short,& she got wrote up,shouldn’t there b dual control.

  21. Is there a law in Tennessee that makes it illegal to ask a waitress to help out with dishes if he or she are not busy?

  22. I work at a bar and billiards place in California. My employer has made a policy where are boy/girlfriends and/or spouses are not allowed at the bar (workplace) while we are on duty. They can come in and hang out only while we are off duty. Is that legal??

  23. Is it legalfor a boss to demote or laugh about ones employment arrangements with any other employer in front of customers or give information to customers such as phone ,house or location information

  24. I work in a small restaurant the owner come in drinks a few beers and starts working and trying to rearrange things it’s very frustrating is their anything I can say ?

  25. What can u do if i have worked for a restuarant as a waitdress but the owner never gives his waitress pay checks cause he says he cant afford it and he dont have to pay them hourly wages. There has been days I have worked a 10hour day and only made 20 dollars cause it was that slow. It aint my fault it was slow but the owner still needs to pay hourly wages right.

  26. So I work at a fast food place in Madison wi and I’m sick currently I threw up earlier I herd that I can go back to work for 48 hours can you please correct me if I’m wrong

    • So I work at a fast food place in Madison wi and I’m sick currently I threw up earlier I herd that I can go back to work for 48 hours can you please correct me if I’m wrong

      I found my answer I am now sewing them for making me work

  27. I work in a privately owned restaurant in South Carolina. My employer is currently thinking about firing a co-worker due to the fact that is she pregnant. I know that this is very illegal, but I’m not sure what to do. Could I whistleblow and report her? And If I do, what kind of rights do I have as a whistleblower?

  28. Hello,
    I work at a fast food place in CA at a sketchy city. I’m a female and have been put to close the store by myself every time I work. Last week my store got robbed and I was by myself when it occurred. It was very scary and could have ended worst. My manager despite the incident is leaving me to close alone again (when i specifically asked not to be scheduled again that late). I was wondering if there’s any laws regarding closing a store, like if there’s suppose to be 2 people at all times and the steps the store should have taken after the robbery.
    Thank you for your time.

  29. Hey so im 16 and was injured playing for my soccer team during practice..i broke my wrist and have to wear a cast now but dont know if any fast food restaurant will let me apply and work while wearing a short cast on, im forced to quit varsity bc of my my arm and would like to work instead..would save me time and trouble if i knew..thank you.

  30. I have been working in a resturant for 10 yrs now, but now they are breaking a lot of rules. They leave one girl in there complete alone to run the whole store, they will not allow us to use gloves and dont provide tonges to touch uncooked food, they also have now told me that if im seen using gloves they will fire me, there is also no minnorties working there. Is this legal can they do these things and if not who do i contact

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