An ongoing enforcement initiative conducted by the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, focused on the restaurant industry in Oregon, has found widespread violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions. The division is committed to strengthening compliance in this industry and is collaborating with state agencies, industry associations, worker advocates and other stakeholders to promote awareness and compliance with federal labor laws.

The division’s Portland District Office, whose jurisdiction covers Oregon, Idaho and southern Washington, conducted more than 110 restaurant investigations in fiscal year 2012; 79 percent of all investigated employers were found in violation of the FLSA. These violations resulted in approximately $740,000 in minimum wage and overtime back wages for 500 restaurant employees.

“The severity of labor violations in this industry is truly alarming. We found that only about 21 percent of the investigated restaurants were in compliance with the FLSA. This culture of noncompliance harms low-wage, vulnerable workers and places honest employers at a disadvantage because they obey the law,” said Jeffrey Genkos, the Wage and Hour Division’s district director in Portland. “A key focus of our initiative is to educate employers about their legal responsibilities and to promote voluntary compliance with federal labor laws. By working with stakeholders, such as the State of Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, we are able to expand the reach of our compliance assistance effort and help promote a vibrant and compliant local restaurant industry.”

The division is continuing its enforcement initiative this year to identify and remedy common FLSA violations, such as failing to pay for all hours worked, having employees perform work duties off the clock and incorrectly designating employees as exempt from overtime. Other violations include paying nonexempt employees a flat salary, regardless of any overtime hours worked, and paying cash wages completely off the books. Illegal deductions from workers’ wages for uniforms, breakages, customer walkouts and cash register shortages are also common. The division is committed to identifying, remedying and preventing child labor violations, such as restaurant employers allowing minors to operate hazardous equipment, including dough mixers and meat slicers.

Investigators will make unannounced visits to full-service restaurants to assess compliance. When violations are found, the division will pursue corrective action, including payment of back wages, civil money penalties and liquidated damages, to ensure accountability and deter future violations.

In addition to enforcement efforts, the division is conducting outreach to workers, employee associations, community organizations, state and local agencies, and other stakeholders to inform them of the ongoing initiative and encourage their participation in promoting industrywide compliance.