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Restaurant Manager Can Be Liable for Overtime Law Violations


The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is generally used to protect employees from abuse by their employers. However, the owners of a company are not always the only party capable of abusing employees. In some instances, the abuse may come from managers.

This was demonstrated in a recent wage and hour lawsuit against Woo Lae Oak restaurant in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Three former employees of the restaurant filed a lawsuit against their former employer, alleging violations of the FLSA and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collections Act (IWPCA). In addition to the restaurant and its owners, Kaylyn Kim, one of the managers at the restaurant, was also listed as a defendant. Kim moved for summary judgment on the allegations against her since she was not an “employer” under the relevant laws. Upon further inspection though, the court found that Kim was not without potential responsibility for the alleged violations.

Kim alleges that she held the title of “office manager” during the relevant time period, did not hold any ownership in the restaurant; did not have the authority to hire or fire employees; did not supervise day-to-day performance; did not prepare work schedules; did not determine the rate or method of employees’ pay; and did not prepare payroll checks for the plaintiffs, although she did prepare payroll checks for some employees. Instead, Kim claims that another employee, Il Kwon Jeong, was the “hall manager” and was the one responsible for firing and hiring employees and for controlling employee’s schedules, working conditions, and rate of pay.

On the other hand, one of the plaintiffs alleges that Kim told customers that she (Kim) was in charge of everything, including the restaurant’s kitchen. The plaintiff also alleges that Kim interviewed job applicants, held herself out to the plaintiffs and other employees as “general manager”; told one of the plaintiffs, Gina Jang, that she would pay Jang lost wages on an hourly basis when “business gets better”; overruled instructions given by Jeong to waiters on several occasions; and offered to pay Jang the waves of a manager if Jan did not quit. The plaintiffs further allege that Kim was at least partially responsible for the financial transactions and accounting of the restaurant.

Under the FLSA and IWPCA, “employer” is defined as “any person” who acts “directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.” The IWPCA goes a step further by including the “agents of an employer who knowingly permit such employer to violate this Act.” In determining whether a violation of the FLSA took place, courts generally use an “economic reality” test, which looks at all of the circumstances of the employment relationship, rather than relying on job titles or labels. In implementing this test, courts do not tend to consider whether the individual in question had “total control” over an employee’s job, but whether the individual “had control over the alleged FLSA violation.”
Since the plaintiffs statements regarding Kim’s role as manager leave a question for the jury as to whether or not she can actually be treated as an “employer” of the plaintiffs, the court denied her motion for summary judgment. The lawsuit will continue with Kim as one of the defendants.

You can view the opinion here.

The Chicago class action lawyers at the Chicago Overtime Law Center are investigating unpaid overtime claims by waiters and bus boys and other restaurant and hotel workers against national restaurant chains including Chipotle, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Outback Steak House, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy’s and hotels for misclassifying employees as managers or assistant managers, forcing employees to work off the clock at business, failing to share all tips, erasing or altering time sheets or time records, pressuring workers not to report or record overtime, and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim these wage theft practices call us at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.

The Chicago class action attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have three decades of experience fighting to help employees who are victims of wage, overtime and tip theft by their employers. We have a team of Chicago unpaid overtime lawyers who concentrate on prosecuting state and nationwide class action lawsuits. Our attorneys work out of Chicago and Oak Brook offices and pursue claims for workers all over the Chicago area including Aurora and St. Charles. We protect unpaid workers who haven’t received overtime throughout the Chicago area including in DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Cook Counties.

Our Geneva and Batavia overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers misclassify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages.

The Chicago Overtime Law Center is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Chicago class action attorneys by phone at (312) 869-4095 or through our online form.