AUSTIN, Texas — According to the U.S. Department of Labor, $230,353 in back wages has been recovered for 274 employees of a popular barbecue operator following an investigation into claims that the employer shared employee tips with restaurant managers – a practice not allowed by federal law.
That law, the Fair Labor Standards Act, bars employers, managers and supervisors from keeping tips employees receive for any purposes, whether or not the employer takes a tip credit.
The investigation included Black’s Barbecue Inc., Kent Black’s Lockhart Barbecue Inc. and New Braunfels Barbecue LLC.
“Food service industry employers must know that tips are the property of tipped employees who earn them, plain and simple,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Nicole Sellers. “Workers and their families depend on their rightfully earned wages and benefits. If you take from them, you take from their families. The Wage and Hour Division is committed to safeguarding the rights of all essential food service workers.”
In a statement, owner Kent Black said:
"Black’s Barbecue has always paid 100% of all tips to all of their employees based on current laws and rules. The company and the owners of the company have never received any tips.
"Black’s BBQ was not aware that Department of Labor (DOL) rules had recently changed in 2020 and that managers should not receive tips.
"Our payroll has always been outsourced and we relied on the HR company for advice. When notified of the rule change, we quickly and voluntarily came into compliance with DOL.
"All hourly employees, both current and former, were fully compensated for everything they were owed with company funds. This issue was resolved with DOL in 2021."
Both Black's Barbecue Inc. and Kent Black's Lockhart Barbecue Inc. have operated for three generations in Texas. They have locations in Lockhart, Austin, New Braunfels and San Marcos.
In fiscal year 2021, the Wage and Hour Division identified around $35 million in back wages owed to more than 29,000 food service industry workers. These stemmed from violations related to tip retention, failure to pay overtime and not paying for pre- and post-shift work.
"The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in food preparation and service occupations will grow 20% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations, and gain about 2.3 million jobs," the Department of Labor said in a press release. "These occupations are among the nation’s lowest paid groups. Employers who ensure their workers are paid their rightful wages and benefits will be best positioned to retain and recruit skilled workers."
The department has an online search tool for those who believe they may be owed back wages. Workers can also call the Wage and Hour Division, regardless of immigration status, for free.
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