Hundreds of Austin restaurant workers to receive back wages

FILE - Restaurant kitchen (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Restaurant kitchen (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hundreds of Austin restaurant workers will receive back wages after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division determined they weren’t being properly paid by their employers.

The division says in fiscal year 2016, nearly every one of its investigations of restaurants in Austin revealed the owners were violating federal labor laws. From October 2015 to June 2016, investigators helped recover more than $330,000 in back wages for 500 Austin restaurant workers.

“The current level of noncompliance found in these investigations is not acceptable,” said Dr. David Weil, administrator of the Wage and Hour Division in a press release. “WHD will continue to use every tool we have available to combat this issue. This includes vigorous enforcement as well as outreach to employer associations and worker advocates to ensure that Austin restaurant workers receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

“It has to do with the practices that are already entrenched,” said Weil,  “95 percent is a very high number. It says to me there is a high rate of non-compliance in this industry that we have to take very seriously and we are.”

Some of the common violations include employers:

  • Requiring employees to work exclusively for tips, with no regard to minimum-wage standards.
  • Making illegal deductions from workers’ wages for walkouts, breakages, credit card transaction fees and cash register shortages, which reduce wages below the required minimum wage.
  • Paying straight-time wages for overtime hours worked.
  • Calculating overtime incorrectly for servers based on their $2.13 per hour base rates before tips, instead of the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
  • Failing to pay proper overtime for salaried non-exempt cooks.
  • Creating illegal tip pools involving kitchen staff.
  • Failing to maintain accurate and thorough records of employees’ wages and work hours.
  • Committing significant child labor violations, such as allowing minors to operate and clean hazardous equipment, including dough mixers and meat slicers.

“You’re taking away those hard earned wages that they need to make it by here in Austin,” said Sam Robles from the Workers Defense Projects. She says awareness of “wage theft” is the highest its been in years. Since 2002, their legal team has helped win back more than $1 million in wages and more than 20 people complain every week.

“A lot of working people in Austin and in Texas are being exploited,” said Robles.

It was such a big problem officials from the Department of Labor came to Austin to tell us many of these restaurants have been breaking the laws for years.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that covered, non-exempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates.

If you’re wondering which restaurants violated the law…the Department of Labor would not publicly give specific restaurants. But we filed an open records request and will follow up with the department of Labor and the restaurants breaking the law.

If you have concerns about your wage and employer, you can call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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