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Is Wage Theft an Epidemic in the Restaurant Industry?

December 28, 2016 Wage Theft & Unpaid Wages

Philadelphia eatery under scrutiny from the feds

If you want to have a career in the restaurant industry, are you supposed to simply accept that putting in extra hours off-the-clock is part of the deal?

Several employees at a high-profile Philadelphia eatery have come forward in the last few months, claiming that they were strong-armed into working additional hours for zero compensation. That prompted the Department of Labor (DOL) to launch an investigation into Talula’s Garden, a renowned Philadelphia restaurant co-owned by Stephen Starr.

This investigation shines a spotlight on what may be the elephant in the room in the restaurant world: wage theft just might be an epidemic across all levels of the food service industry.

Delayed Clock-In

Two line cooks at Talula’s Garden claim that they began work every day between 11 AM and 1 PM, but were not allowed to clock in until 3 PM.

Mark Tinkleman told Newsworks: “We were explicitly told that’s the way it works … I accepted it, I tolerated it and I didn’t speak out until now because it’s the kind of thing that a lot of people in the industry will shun you for.”

Tinkleman’s former colleague Robert Fitz alleges that this arrangement cost him thousands of dollars in unpaid wages. According to Philadelphia magazine, Fitz says he was informed about the uncompensated hours while interviewing with a chef before he took the job. “He said that there was an extensive amount of prep work to do, so the majority of line cooks come in at 11,” Tinkleman stated. “He said, ‘We’re not obligated to tell you this, by law we can’t tell you this, but it’s highly recommended that you do it. And clock-in time is at 3.’”

But Tinkleman and Fitz are hardly alone. Recent lawsuits against Chipotle underscore that wage theft can be a problem at restaurants of any type, from fine dining to fast food.

What You Need to Know About Wage Theft

If you’re an hourly employee and you’re asked to work off-the-clock, that should set off alarm bells.

Under federal law, you generally cannot be required to work off-the-clock if you’re a non-exempt employee and you work for a private employer.

It’s also important to remember that pay equals money. It’s generally unlawful for a private employer to substitute another benefit in lieu of regular or overtime pay. For example, you cannot be compensated with comp time or merchandise.

Public employers may be able to substitute comp time for overtime, but only pursuant to a previously agreed-upon policy.

Contact Us for a Free Consultation

If you believe that you haven’t been compensated in accordance with the law, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney about your rights.

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