HARTFORD, CT — A special session has yet to be scheduled, but the legislature’s Labor and Judiciary Committees plan to hold a public hearing Thursday on legislation that would codify practices for keeping track of restaurant workers’ hours.
In the summer, Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed a bill that sought to retroactively change the law so restaurant workers would not be able to sue restaurant owners for failing to properly keep track of their hours.
Lamont vetoed the bill, which passed both chambers unanimously, “because it is an illegal attempt to retroactively deprive restaurant workers of their day in court. Restaurant workers across our state say they went to work under rules that promised them a higher wage than they were paid.”
The House and the Senate failed to override the veto in July, but seem to have come to a consensus with Lamont’s administration on a way forward.
The draft legislation would require the Department of Labor to write new regulations to more accurately reflect the guidance they’ve given to restaurants.
Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, has said restaurants have been operating for years under the 80/20 guidelines.
Those guidelines essentially say restaurant owners don’t need to keep track of all the side work servers do when they’re not waiting on customers as long as they don’t spend more than 20 percent of their time on those tasks.
The draft proposal allows any employee who is paid less than the minimum fair wage or overtime wage to recover any losses in a civil action. The draft legislation would allow restaurant workers recoup “twice the full amount of such minimum wage or overtime wage less any amount actually paid to him or her by the employer, with costs and such reasonable attorney’s fees as may be allowed by the court.”
In addition, “If the employer establishes that the employer had a good faith belief that the underpayment of such wages was in compliance with the law, the full amount of such minimum wage or overtime wage less any amount actually paid to such employee by the employer, with costs as may be allowed by the court. A good faith belief includes, but is not limited to, reasonable reliance on written guidance from the Labor Department.”
The Department of Labor guidance said restaurant owners didn’t have to keep track of servers time if they only spent 20 percent of their time doing so-called “sidework” like filling ketchup bottles or rolling silverware.
More than 15 class action lawsuits have been filed against various restaurant owners.
Barry Jessurun, owner of Green Valley Hospitality, is one of the restaurant groups being sued by a server. He said they didn’t even know there were inconsistencies in the law until they were sued back in May.
“We’re an important employer in our state,” Jessurun said. “And something like this could be very devastating to our business to the point that we might have to close to pay the potential fines.”
Jessurun’s company operates several restaurants including the Vanilla Bean Cafe in Pomfret and 85 Main in Putnam. The class-action lawsuit filed by a server says that the restaurant didn’t keep track of the time a server spent waiting on customers and doing side work like filling ketchup bottles or rolling silverware so it should have paid its servers the full minimum wage. The server also says the restaurant made her share a portion of her tips with other employees.
The complaint against Jessurun’s restaurant group alleges it underpaid the plaintiff and “all Connecticut servers by hundreds of thousands of dollars during the period of the claim.”
Lawsuits against several other regional and local restaurants are similar and filed mostly by the same law firm. However, other similar lawsuits have recently been filed by different attorneys.
The 10 a.m. public hearing Thursday, Oct. 10 is expected to be a precursor to a special session.