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Restaurant Workers Were Denied Breaks; Company Pays $1.7 Million to Settle Wage and Overtime Complaints

June 5, 2015 Wage Theft & Unpaid Wages

Staffers weren’t compensated for missed rest and meal periods

If you’ve ever worked a restaurant job, you know that the dinner rush can be maddeningly busy. Before you know it, you look up at the clock and hours have gone by.

However, “busy” is not a legal excuse for companies to refuse workers their legally mandated rest and meal breaks.

Wolfgang Puck restaurants just found this out the hard way.

Didn’t Follow State Law

Workers in three California locations sued the company, claiming that they were regularly denied their rest and meal break periods. Under California law, if hourly workers miss breaks for any reason, they’re entitled to an additional hour’s worth of wages. The problem was, the workers didn’t get the additional pay either.  (It’s important to note that different states may have different laws on this. We’ll discuss Pennsylvania and New Jersey laws later on in the article.)

They filed a class-action lawsuit for wage and overtime violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The case drug on for two years until the company finally agreed to settle. Close to 900 workers will get relief from the $1.7 million settlement payout after all the legal fees are paid. 

(The case discussed here is Ruben v. Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group.)

Breaks in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

When it comes to breaks, it’s important to understand what you’re entitled to under state law. Keep in mind, if you cross state lines to work, different laws may apply.

For example, Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not have identical laws pertaining to work breaks. While neither state requires breaks for employees 18 and over, each has specific rules governing how breaks must be handled.

In Pennsylvania, employers are required to provide break periods of at least 30 minutes for minors ages 14 through 17 who work five or more consecutive hours. If breaks last less than 20 minutes, employees must be paid for the break. Meal periods do not have to be compensated if they last more than 20 minutes and the staffer isn’t working at the time.

In New Jersey, workers under 18 must be given a 30-minute meal break after every five hours of work. Any other break and meal policies are at the company’s discretion.

What It Means to You

If you have questions about meal and rest breaks or other wage and overtime questions, it’s smart to speak to a lawyer who is well-versed in these types of disputes.

Email us at, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.