“…officials at the local U.S. Department of Labor office say that in prior years, they relied on employee tips to launch investigations… the random inspections now drive as many investigations as employee complaints…those probes increasingly turned up egregious violations including kitchen workers being paid as little as $2 an hour…Starting in 2011, the office launched a restaurant initiative, focusing on a different segment each year. The initial focus was pizza and pasta restaurants. Last year it was diners; this year, Asian restaurants…”
The U.S. Department of Labor is targeting Long Island‘s largest private-sector employer, the restaurant industry, charging it with widespread minimum-wage and overtime violations.
The department has launched a campaign of random inspections with growing impact: In the 12 months through Sept. 30, it obtained court orders against 89 employers for such violations on the Island — about half of the roughly 180 orders obtained in all the United States by the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, according to Irv Miljoner, the Westbury-based district director for Long Island. Of the Island employers being sanctioned, 66 are restaurants.
As part of the stepped-up litigation, local Labor officials are increasingly seeking liquidated damages, which double the back wages owed. “Before this we would just go in and we would get back wages for a two-year period, and they would pay it and we’re done,” said Richard Mormile, assistant director of the Long Island office. “We have upped those consequences.”
Overall in fiscal year 2012, the office’s investigators found that local employers, mostly restaurants and diners, owed $8.6 million in back wages, up 28 percent from $6.7 million they uncovered the year before.
This year’s effort has already resulted in one of the largest settlements ever for the local office. An Asian restaurant chain with two locations on Long Island — Asian Moon, in Garden City and Massapequa Park — and a location in Westchester agreed to a court order requiring it to pay more than $1 million to settle charges that it underpaid 255 employees over three years and altered records to hide the violations. The department’s lawsuit charged that food preparers and dishwashers worked 55 hours a week without being paid overtime.