How Common Are Wage and Hour Violations at Subway and Other Fast-Food Restaurants?

In a recent expose on Subway wage and hour cases, this blog discussed a deeply disturbing CNN Money analysis, which revealed that the sandwich maker stands accused of 17,000 Fair Labor Standards Act violations committed over the past decade and a half.

The CNN analysis noted that there are 26,000 Subways across the United States — the highest number of any fast-food chains in the country, including McDonalds. However, the global mistreatment of Subway “sandwich artists” disturbed regulators enough to provoke the Department of Labor to get involved to boost Subway’s compliance with FLSA rules.

One Labor Department spokesperson told CNN: “it’s no coincidence that we approach Subway, because we saw a significant number of violations.”

The CNN analysis found that “a 2009 study by several think tanks estimates that about 18 percent of restaurant hotel workers faced minimum wage violations, 78 percent faced overtime violations, and 74 percent encountered what are known as “off the clock” violations, where the workers are expected to do tasks without being paid.”

Common incidents include:

• Employers forcing workers to deduct lunch breaks, even when they don’t take breaks;
• Forcing workers to pay for company uniforms. This can be a violation if, after deducting the expense, the worker’s hourly rate falls below the minimum wage.

These figures are truly staggering. They must be put in context and understood at deep level.

Many critics of wage and hour firms, like Joseph & Kirschenbaum, say in effect, “you guys are going after practically every business out there. You must be ‘lawsuit happy.’ You’re making it harder for businesses to run effectively and generate jobs.”

We want simple fairness: to see restaurants and other business comply more strictly with the FLSA and other labor law guidelines. If only a handful of restaurants engaged in bad practices — such as making workers work “off the clock” or forcing them to buy their own uniforms — then maybe such critics would have a point.

However, this independent CNN analysis shows that wage and hour violations are epidemic.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, companies seem to be stuck in the inertia of their old ways. CNN reports: “labor law violation lawsuits are on the rise.” It’s a shame that these issues often need to be settled with litigation, but that’s apparently how industry wants it.

Legal Aid Society staff attorney, Hollis Pefitsch, told CNN: “it’s only now that the fast-food industry is getting attention from the private sector, probably because of all the organizing workers speaking out.”

And that is why we do what we do — not just because we want to help our own clients but also because we want to see systematic improvement in the treatment of workers in the U.S.

For help understanding your rights regarding a workplace wage and hour violation, harassment, discrimination, or retaliation case, call the Joseph & Kirschenbaum team today at (212) 688-5640, or email us to set up a consultation at info@jhllp.com.