Beyond Simple New York Wage and Hour Violations: Greek Diner Owners Go to Jail for Underpaying Their Employees

Ask any defendants who’ve gone up against our New York wage and hour lawyers at Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP: they’ll tell you that the court system is dead serious about stopping illegal employment practices and not averse to punishing restaurant owners in diverse ways.

Greek Diner Wage & Hour Violations

In case that message hasn’t sunken in, it should now, thanks to a landmark case regarding the Colony Diner in East Meadow. The owners of that Greek restaurant, 41 year old Thomas Strifas, and 46 year old George Strifas, recently pled guilty to underpaying six dozen workers and falsifying records. They now face up to four years behind bars as well as over $500,000 in forced remuneration. Roughly $50,000 of the money will pay back state unemployment insurance; $3,000 will pay employees for damages; and $338,000 will go to settle overtime and minimum wage violations.

The Federal Labor Department collaborated with the Nassau County District DA’s office to investigate the Colony Diner. This joint effort was the first of its kind — made possible by an April 2011 law called New York State’s Wage Theft Prevention Act.

According to reports, from September 2007 to September 2010, the Colony Diner paid its servers a ludicrous wage — less than $2 an hour. Staff in the kitchen never earned overtime, even though they often worked up to 60 hours a week. Investigators also say that the diner owners falsified their records.

The head of the local U.S. Labor Department’s office, Irv Miljoner, issued stern words of warning: “The results send a clear message to employers that there are real consequences to wage theft and cash-off-the-book payments…underpaying your workers is not the way to do business.”

Discussion

The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Laws seem to confuse many business and restaurant owners. But ignorance of the law is not an excuse, nor should it be.

Why would an employer ever think that it was “okay” to pay workers less than $2 an hour in 2013 America?

Of course, identifying employer errors, omissions, or intentional bad practices is a lot different from “doing something” about them. Most servers and restaurant workers in New York barely have enough time to shower after their shifts and take care of their families.

Even if you had the “down time” to deeply examine the law – i.e. to figure out whether an employer was likely violating wage and hour laws in some fashion – what then? What should you do? Where should you go for help? How should you surmount the financial and psychological hurdles preventing you from taking action?

Fortunately, you do not need to navigate your bewildering, scary employment situation by yourself anymore. The team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP, is widely known throughout New York for successfully taking on some of the most powerful interests in New York. We fight passionately on behalf of underpaid and mistreated employees.

Whether you’ve suffered harassment, wage and hour violations, racial discrimination, or other unfair treatment, get in touch today at (212) 688-5640 for a confidential evaluation of your case.