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Volunteering for unpaid prep work

unpaid prep work

Question:

We typically come in early to get a jump on prep if we can.  It just makes for a less stressful service. Now my boss is saying that we can’t do that because we’re not allowed to be in the kitchen when we’re not on the clock and he can’t afford overtime. I’m willing to volunteer that extra time but is he right?

– Cook, Philadelphia, PA (via social media)

Answer:

Clocking in after one’s shift starts is an issue that has been around for a long time, but is resurfacing again due to some high-profile lawsuits.  For those of us who came up in the days of free staging/trailing in fine dining restaurants, hanging around to pay our dues and learn, the whole idea of not being allowed to put in extra hours for free is bizarre.

Unfortunately, from the restaurateur’s perspective—it’s the law. Requiring employees to work extra hours without pay (or without overtime if warranted) is a clear violation of wage and hour law, but even to allow employees to do so voluntarily can get you into trouble.

This is another complexity facing restaurant owners. My advice for restaurants is to keep clean on this front—make sure workloads can be done within a shift, do not allow extra unpaid work, and pay overtime where warranted. Think about doing a proper internship or apprenticeship program with a local culinary program to help with labor costs and look at your costs holistically to see where you can trim. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for this one. 

More on overtime and wage and hour here

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