The owner of several restaurants in Los Angeles intentionally didn't pay overtime to dozens of employees—and now has to pay up big.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has recovered $1,651,550 in back wages and liquidated damages from business owner Prapai Boonyindee, the government agency announced Jan. 3. The DOL said Boonyindee denied 83 workers overtime wages and created false records showing they worked no overtime hours when, in fact, they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek.
"Wage theft is used by unscrupulous restaurant-industry employers to increase their bottom lines at the expense of some of our nation's lowest-paid workers," Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, said in a statement.
In addition to recovering $825,775 in overtime back wages and an equal amount in damages, the DOL assessed $62,167 in civil money penalties.
In fiscal year 2021, the Wage and Hour Division recovered more than $34.7 million for more than 29,000 workers in the food service industry.
SHRM Online gathered additional news on the topic.
Popular Eatery in California
Boonyindee is owner of the Thai restaurant chain Ocha Classic, which has six locations, and the Thai-Chinese restaurant Vim in Panorama City, Calif. The DOL investigation affected workers in every location, the agency said.
(Eater Los Angeles) and (DOL)
DOL Overtime Claims Are on the Rise
The DOL is recovering an increasing amount of damages in overtime claims as it goes after employers that are misclassifying workers or miscalculating overtime.
"I think the Biden administration has signaled a shift in focus away from compliance and toward enforcement," said Joseph Harris, an attorney with A.Y. Strauss in New York City.
Overtime claims are most often unintentional, Harris said, and typically arise as a result of misunderstandings about wage hour laws or technical violations.
Other High-Profile Wage Cases
The $1.6 million Los Angeles restaurant case is the latest in recent months in which restaurant workers were owed tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages or tips. A number of other high-profile wage-theft cases include a Krispy Kreme case in November, in which the doughnut chain agreed to pay $1.2 million to more than 500 workers across its 242 stores nationwide, and a case in North Carolina where a restaurant kept a percentage of its employees' tips, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The restaurant then owed the workers the difference between their paid cash and the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which totaled $157,287.
Overtime Rules Expected
2022 came and went without any proposed overtime rule from the DOL, meaning employers are still waiting to see what wage and hour changes are on tap. But that may change in the first half of 2023, as the Labor Department is expected to propose updates. President Joe Biden released his next regulatory to-do list on Jan. 4, detailing his ambitions in the coming months—which includes changes to overtime.
Employment law attorneys anticipate that the DOL will recommend higher salary-level thresholds for the white-collar exemptions to the rule. If so, more people would be eligible for overtime pay.
The last update was in 2019, when the DOL set the minimum salary threshold for overtime eligibility at $35,568. It went into effect in 2020.
(Bloomberg Law) and (SHRM Online)