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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)1

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.

  1. The child receives a work permit (in some states)
  2. The work is non-hazardous
  3. They work no more than 3 hours on a school day or 8 on a non-school day (18 hours a week maximum)2

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-coolers3

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

  • Cashier positions
  • Bagging orders
  • Bussing tables
  • Washing dishes
  • Hand-cleaning fruit and vegetables
  • Some limited cooking duties such as frying4

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)5

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
Hazard Communication Program
A hazard communication program is an OSHA standard for any workplace where hazardous chemicals are present. The chemical manufacturers must evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce and prepare labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to communicate the potential dangers. Employers must have this information on hand to educate and train workers accordingly.
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 programs6

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.


1 U.S. Department of Labor, “The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)” http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-flsa.htm (accessed October 24, 2008).
2 U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, “Fact Sheet #2A: Rules for Employing Youth in Restaurants and Quick-Service Establishments under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs2.pdf (accessed October 19, 2008).
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, “Worker Rights Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970” http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/worker/rights.html (accessed Oct 19, 2008).
6 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Discriminatory Practices” http://www.eeoc.gov/abouteeo/overview_practices.html (accessed October 19, 2008).