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A Server’s Plea for Help Leads to $1.2 Million in Back Wages

Diego Jimenez sitting on the front steps of a house.

Diego Jimenez worked long hours as a server at La Carreta Mexican Restaurant in Derry, New Hampshire for over four years. Diego regularly worked over 50 hours a week, serving customers and cleaning the restaurant, but the only compensation he received for his hard work were the tips paid by restaurant patrons.

“I took pride in the level of service I provided to my customers,” said Diego, “but working only for tips made it so much harder for me to meet my family’s basic needs.” A native Spanish speaker, Diego thought his immigrant background may have factored into his employer’s decision to not pay him any wages. While Diego wanted to be paid the hourly and overtime wages owed to him under the Fair Labor Standards Act, he hesitated to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division while still employed by the restaurant.

Diego found other work prospects and left La Carreta. This new job gave him the security he’d been looking for and the confidence he needed to contact the division for assistance. Following an investigation and subsequent court action by the department, Diego Jimenez will receive $134,864 in back wages and damages from his former employer.

“I am so glad there are federal labor laws to help protect workers like myself. Receiving this back pay is life-changing for my family. We are looking to purchase a home now, and the wages retrieved by the Wage and Hour Division are making that possible,” he said.

Diego’s decision to contact the division for help was felt far beyond his personal situation. As word of the La Carreta investigation spread, our investigators received information that led to the investigation of additional businesses. These enforcement efforts ultimately resulted in our recovering $1,266,997 for 149 low-wage workers. As it turned out, a single call made all the difference.

Regrettably, Diego’s experience is all too common.  Food service workers often lose wages when employers keep their tips, pay on a tips-only basis, deduct meal costs from wages for dine-and-dash patrons, and withhold overtime from salaried kitchen staff that qualify for overtime pay.

The law requires these employers to pay cash wages in addition to tips earned and provide overtime pay to all workers who qualify regardless of whether they’re paid a salary.

Vulnerable workers in the food services industry should know the FLSA has strong anti-retaliation provisions to protect workers who contact us. You don’t have to wait to leave your job and find another before you reach out for help. These provisions and wage protections apply to workers regardless of their immigration status.

For more information about the wage and anti-retaliation provisions of the FLSA, workers and employers can call us confidentially. We can speak with callers in more than 200 languages through the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Also, check out the Restaurant Compliance Assistance Toolkit for resources and guidance compiled specifically for the restaurant industry.

Brian Cleasby is a community outreach and resource planning specialist for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Follow the Wage and Hour Division on Twitter at @WHD_DOL.

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