New York Restaurant Operators Hopeful On Labor Law Changes

After a whole host of recent wage lawsuits, some including big culinary names, New York restaurant operators and owners are finally seeking more clarification regarding wage practices. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, points of discussion include how overtime rates are calculated for tipped employees, more specific guidance on tip sharing and tip pooling, and possibilities for mandatory tip pooling.

“A lot of issues came to a climax this year, and certainly there is a need for change,” [labor attorney Carolyn] Richmond said. “The amount of class-action lawsuits has [skyrocketed]—just look at the [court] docket for the Southern District of New York. It’s fair to say that almost on a daily basis a wage-and-hour class-action lawsuit is filed against a restaurant, from the mom-and-pop shops to the large restaurant companies.”

Currently, the New York State Department of Labor rules state that employees can opt-out of tip pooling, which puts owners and managers in a precarious position. Also in the discussion – the wash-and-wear ruling where restaurants pay employees $9 per week to maintain their ‘uniforms’.

“Our wait staff wears what is considered an ordinary wardrobe that consists of jeans, khakis or black pants and a black shirt,” said Jasper Alexander, owner of Hattie’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in his testimony before the board. “We do provide and pay for laundering of their aprons, which they are required to wear. All other clothing is provided and laundered by the employee because all of it may be worn for normal, everyday activities. If the additional cost to the employee incurred by their clothing is a real concern for the state, then they should create a tax write-off for clothing cost and maintenance.”

The six member Wage Board is currently compiling their recommendations for the labor department, with the full board report due out later this month.

~Jennifer Heigl

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