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Fighting for Abused Restaurant Workers

By Thomas M Lee

The recession has hit restaurant owners very hard. The last thing that anyone wants to do after losing their job is to eat out. Restaurants know this, and in order to survive, or at least continue making profits, a restaurant owner not only has to cut its food costs but also to cut its employee costs by abusing the workers.

Restaurant owners abuse their employees in several ways. The most common way is to pay them a flat daily or monthly salary and then make them work long hours with no overtime or minimum wages. Another way is to trick them into believing that because they earn so much in tips, no wages need to be paid. And, another way is to make fake timecard entries that result in the worker working "off-the-clock."

The abuse of restaurant workers is not limited by ethnic boundary and applies equally to all persons regardless of race, gender, or immigration status. Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, Japanese ... you name it. And, the legal remedies also apply equally as well. If you are an abused restaurant worker, here are some things you can do to fight back:

1) Never sign anything without a lawyer's advice:

The only reason your boss wants you to sign a document is for you to give up an important right like suing them for abusing you. They may threaten you, or they may offer you some money to sign the paper. Whatever you do, always demand that you have your lawyer review it before signing it. If your boss says NO and wants you to sign it now, this is your biggest sign to NOT sign it!

2) Remember that even if you do not have legal immigration status, you still have the same rights as every other employee in California!

Restaurant workers who do not have legal immigration status are typically the most abused because the owners know that they can always threaten to deport them if they don't agree to be abused. California law provides the same legal rights to every employee regardless of immigration status. The logic is that if the employer chose to hire someone illegally, then that employee must be given the same rights as other employees in this state. Plus, the USCIS and ICE would rather go after an employer of illegal aliens so that they can penalize them and seek fines and sanctions. Arresting and deporting an illegal alien seldom generates any revenue for the USCIS/ICE and only costs money.

3) File a complaint with the DLSE or DOL:

An abused restaurant worker can file a claim with the California DLSE or Federal DOL for their unpaid wages. These services are free. However, you get what you pay for. In this recession, the federal and California goverments have also suffered. Massive budget cutbacks has resulted in staff cuts, office closures, and delayed hearing dates. Plus, even if you win during this slow process, the government will not help you collect your money.

4) Hire a labor law lawyer and sue!

Before you consult with a labor law lawyer, you should always ask if they are going to charge you a consultation fee or make you pay a deposit if you hire them. An experienced labor law lawyer will never ask for a penny from you up front if they want your case. Typically, labor law cases are based on a contingency basis and your lawyer will be paid later when your case settles or after judgment. As with anything in life, litigation involves risk. For example, if the restaurant owner files bankruptcy, you may lose your right to pursue your unpaid wages. Or, if your case gets assigned to a prejudiced judge who is biased against workers - yes, not all judges are fair!, then your case will suffer. No matter what, it is always best to arm yourself with as much information as possible before deciding how you will fight your fight.

If you are interested in filing a claim with the DLSE, you may visit their website here. Or, if you don't want an overworked indifferent DMV style government worker handling your case as slowly as possible, and would instead want an aggressive pit bull type lawyer to fight your fight, contact Attorney Thomas M. Lee for a free consultation.

Please note that the information I am providing here in this entry, or in my website is NOT to be construed as legal advice nor is it meant to form an attorney-client relationship. If you want a free legal consultation, please call or email me anytime.