Staging In Restaurants is Unlawful Under the Labor Laws

Staging In Restaurants is Unlawful Under the Labor Laws

July 10, 2023
July 11, 2023
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On FX’s hit new TV show “The Bear,” one of the sandwich shop’s chefs goes abroad to “stage.” “Staging” is a popular training process in top notch restaurants where aspiring chefs shadow in another chef’s kitchen and work for free. While working as a stage offers aspiring chefs the opportunity to sharpen their culinary skills and learn new cooking techniques, stages find them selves working grueling hours and performing menial tasks, such as polishing cutlery and arranging spices. Stages may form the backbone of some Michelin star restaurants, but in the United States, staging without compensation is illegal, and is unlawful wage theft under the labor laws.


Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state labor laws, restaurants must pay at least the minimum wage  ($7.25under the FLSA and $15 in New York) and overtime after 40 hours to their workers.


Restaurant staging programs that are without pay have been determined to be unlawful by the Department of Labor. In 2017, The Willows Inn, one of Washington state’s most acclaimed fine dining destinations, shut down their staging program after being ordered by the Department of Labor to pay out $149,000 to nineteen kitchen employees. According to the Department of Labor, The Willows Inn “violated the Fair LaborStandards Act by failing to pay overtime and minimum wage to its employees,”who were forced to work their first month without wages and then were paid $50per day for a 14-hour shift.


Upscale restaurants might try to present stages as unpaid interns, who would be exempt from the FLSA’s wage protections, as opposed to employees. However, the Department of Labor offers   guidelines to differentiate between an employee and an intern. These Department of Labor guidelines consider factors such as whether the “internship” is for the benefit of the intern, whether the employer derives an immediate benefit from the intern’s activities, and whether the intern displaces regular employees. Under this test, stages are clearly not undertaking an internship, but rather providing free labor to the restaurant.


If you believe you are victim of wage theft, please contact the attorneys at Pechman Law Group at 212-583-9500. We have recovered over 20 million dollars on behalf of workers who have been cheated out of their overtime or have been subjected to other unlawful pay practices.

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