By: Kara M. Maciel
The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division in Norfolk, Virginia has announced that it will be stepping up its compliance audits and enforcement efforts against area hotels. In the past few years, the DOL stated it found violations at about 60% of local hotels. According to the DOL, the agency recently made spot checks at 10 area hotels since April. This is just one part of the agency’s nationwide enforcement program and its “Plan/Prevent/Protect” initiative against the hospitality industry. Common violations assessed by the DOL include:
· Payment of overtime. Under the FLSA, employees are entitled to overtime for any hours worked over 40 per week. For employers who have multiple hotels or facilities, when employees work at different locations in a work week, it is imperative that the employer coordinate its payroll systems to aggregate the employee’s time worked at both jobs in order to ensure that proper overtime is being paid. The DOL is finding that when an employee works at one hotel 20 hours per week, and 25 hours at another hotel, the employee is not paid overtime.
· Unlawful deductions. Many hospitality employers require employees to reimburse the hotel for a uniform through payroll deductions. However, an employer may not lawfully deduct from an employee’s wages for the cost of a uniform if it reduces the employee’s hourly wage below the minimum wage. Thus, for employees who are paid the minimum wage or tipped employees for whom the employer takes the tip credit, the hotel cannot deduct for a uniform if it drops the employee below the minimum wage.
· Working through meal breaks. Another common violation in the hospitality industry relates to workplaces in which the employer voluntarily provides a meal break. Under the FLSA, if an employer allows an employee to take at least a 30 minute meal break, the employee must be completely relieved of duty and the break must be uninterrupted. If an employee clocks out for lunch, and then is asked to clock back in to perform some work, the employee must be paid for the entire meal break, and not just for the time back on the clock. For many employers who automatically deduct for meal breaks or who fail to pay for the full meal period when it is interrupted, this could represent a significant liability.
Now, more than ever, employers in the hospitality industry should be vigilant in their wage and hour compliance with federal and state law. Especially in light of the DOL’s recent roll-out of its Smartphone “app,” which allows workers to track their hours and evaluate the amount of overtime earned, workers are being armed with ample resources to bring claims of unpaid wage against the employers.
As part of our Hospitality Employment and Labor Law Outreach (HELLO), we are familiar with these recent enforcement efforts against the hospitality industry and have been working with our hotel and restaurant clients to minimize costly exposure raised by these claims. Through regular self-audits of payroll practices and procedures, conducted under the attorney-client privilege, a hotel can significantly limit exposure from a DOL investigation or private class action.