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Applebee's wage suit may affect South Florida servers, bartenders

An appeal made by the Applebee's International restaurant chain was recently refused consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeal follows a lawsuit filed by thousands of bartenders and servers, affecting those in South Florida and nationwide, who claimed underpayment because they were paid reduced wages on the basis that they were receiving tips.

The lawsuit calls into question Applebee's usage of the "tip credit" law which lets restaurants give tipped workers a reduction in hourly pay when their tips make up the difference between their reduced wage and minimum wage.

Former and current Applebee's workers alleged they were required to spend a great deal of time performing non-tipped work, such as cleaning, stocking and preparation. While Applebee's argues employees were only required to accomplish tasks included in their job description, the lawsuit can proceed based upon guidelines in a Labor Department 1988 handbook. Legal interpretations of the handbook suggest that workers who spend more than 20 percent of their time performing non-tipped tasks should receive full minimum wage pay for that time period.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Florida Constitution, and the Florida Minimum Wage Act provide legal protections for South Florida employees. Many employers incorrectly think they can automatically pay tipped employees below the federal or Florida minimum wage. If you are a tipped employee in Florida and you think you are not being compensated correctly, it may be wise to contact an experienced employment law attorney.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Court Rejects Applebee's Appeal in Pay Suit," Brent Kendall, Jan. 17, 2012

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