Federal investigators cracked down on 152 Tampa Bay area restaurants for labor law violations, including one of the most iconic brands along the Pinellas beaches: the Frenchy's chain of seafood restaurants.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, a two-year investigation discovered the 152 restaurants violated federal labor laws since 2012. Those establishments agreed to pay 1,518 employees $861,820 in back wages and $152,081 more in damages. The businesses themselves were fined $12,509.
Investigators singled out restaurants that committed "significant labor violations": Frenchy's five restaurants, two Vallarta's Mexican Restaurants in Tampa and the defunct New York-themed diner Simply Delicious in Kenneth City.
According to investigators, scores of restaurants violated rules governing overtime, minimum wage, record-keeping and child labor in the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA. Those restaurants agreed to abide by the FLSA in the future.
Violations included restaurants that created tip pools with kitchen staff, keeping servers and waiters from being paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or overtime wages; not paying extra for overtime hours; illegally deducting credit card transaction fees from wages, reducing them below the minimum wage; failing to accurately track work hours and wages; and violating child labor laws by allowing minors to work with hazardous machinery such as a meat slicer.
"The restaurant industry employs some of the country's lowest-paid workers who, due to a lack of knowledge of the law or a reluctance to exercise their rights, are vulnerable to disparate treatment and labor violations," according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Frenchy's restaurant chain declined to comment on Tuesday.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow him on Twitter @jthalji.