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There are both federal and state restaurant labor laws in place that assures the rights of people employed in the foodservice industry.

You got into the business for the art of it, for it is art that you are serving every single day that you open your restaurant’s doors. As you know, to create these edible masterpieces, you need a team, and a good one. We all get wrapped in our concepts, and we gravitate towards things we love, and let things like restaurant labor laws slip to the back burner.

We know talking about restaurant labor laws is boring, and researching them is, well, completely unexciting, and that’s why we did it for you.

Let’s start at the top. Restaurant labor laws begin at a federal level- and apply to everyone from Portland to Providence.


Here are the basics of restaurant labor laws at a federal level:

The federal government ensures that no matter age or level, restaurant workers are entitled to fair pay, equal opportunities, and safe working conditions. There are various government conglomerates that focus on each of these employee rights.

Restaurant wages:

minimum wages in the US by state

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes the minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. Here are the minimum restaurant labor standards that restaurants comply with:

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  • The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour effective July 2009. Many states also have minimum wage laws – if the state’s minimum wage is higher than federal, the restaurant will reflect the higher wage.
  • As of 2018, 60 percent of states in the U.S. have minimum wage laws that are above the federal minimum wage mandate
  • Tips may be considered part of wages, but the restaurant must adhere to the $2.13 minimum wage, and be sure the tips add up to be equal or above the minimum wage.
  • Uniforms, or other items that are considered mostly for the benefit or convenience of the restaurant, can not be included as part of wages. Restaurants can’t include these types of items when meeting obligations toward paying the minimum wage or overtime.
  • Overtime must be paid at a rate of at least one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for each hour worked over 40 hours per week. When it comes to calculating for a tipped employee, all components of the employee’s wages must be considered (i.e., cash, board, lodging, facilities, and tip credit).
  • Employees under the age of 20 must be paid a minimum wage of no less than $4.25 an hour during the first 90 days of their employment.

chefs and team working in kitchen

Equal treatment for all restaurant workers:

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Here are the restaurant labor laws that apply:

  • You must provide equal pay to male and female restaurant employees who perform the same work unless you can justify a pay difference under the law.
  • You can not discriminate against or harass applicants, employees or former employees because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information (including family medical history).
  • In 2015 45 percent of harassment charges were on the basis of sex, 34 percent on the basis of race, and 19 percent on the basis of disability (source).
  • You cannot use employment policies or practices that have a negative effect on applicants or employees of a particular race, color, religion, sex or national origin or applicants or employees with disabilities unless the policies or practices are related to the job and necessary for the operation of your business.
  • You may be required to provide reasonable accommodations (changes to the way things are normally done at work) because of an applicant’s or employee’s religious beliefs or disability.
  • You must display a poster at your business that describes the federal employment discrimination laws.
  • You must retain any employment records, such as applications, personnel, payroll, and benefits records.
  • Approximately 90 percent of people who have experienced some form of harassment never take formal action against the harassment (source)

Wellbeing and safety of all restaurant workers:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA’s mission is to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Restaurant labor laws are centered around many of OSHA’s requirements:

  • Restaurants are required to have posters from the Department of Labor or their state labor department on display to inform employees of their protections and rights
  • Be sure that the restaurant is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to restaurant employees.
  • According to restaurant labor laws under OSHA, restaurant workers must have clear access to a first aid kit.
  • Ensure proper training to avoid and prevent accidents in the restaurant.
  • Provide necessary protective equipment and materials to all restaurant workers.
  • 26 states, along with 2 U.S. territories, have OSHA approved-state plans. The remaining states and U.S. territories follow OSHA federal regulations.

OSHA approved states

  • OSHA is making a dramatic difference, with workers deaths down from 38 workers a day in 1970 to 14 a day in 2016 (source).
  • Similarly there is a decrease in worker injuries and illnesses, 10.9 percent in 1972 to 2.9 percent in 2016 (source).

Restaurant labor standards seem confusing and time-consuming at first, however, they ensure your restaurant is run in an ethical and fair way, that end up benefiting every dish you serve.

Check out Upserve’s guide to staff management!

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Hannah can be found riding the slopes of New Hampshire by winter and riding the waves of Rhode Island by summer. In order to satisfy a constant sweet tooth, you can find her bouncing between Ellie's Bakery and Pastiche, both in Providence, RI.
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