5 Things You Should Know About Wage Theft If You Work In The California Hospitality Industry


If you work in the California hospitality industry - as a waitress, server, bartender, valet, housekeeper, bellhop, tour guide, front desk clerk, or in any other service job - you have a legal right to be paid fairly for every hour you work. Unfortunately, though, employers in the hospitality industry frequently take advantage of their employees and fail to pay them the amount they deserve. Wage theft in this field of work is a growing problem that is gaining national attention and causing as many as 54% of service workers to consider quitting their jobs; it’s estimated that over 2.4 million workers every year are impacted and collectively lose $8 billion dollars.

Wage theft is illegal and unjust, and employers shouldn’t get away with it, but many employees who work in restaurants and hotels aren’t aware of their rights or what their options are if their rights have been violated. Knowledge is power - the better informed you are about wage theft in the service sector, the better you can stand up for yourself. Read on to learn 5 things that everyone working in the California hospitality industry should know about unpaid wages! If after reading this blog, you believe or suspect that your employer has withheld the wages you should have earned, call our Southern California wage and hour lawyers today to schedule a free, confidential consultation and discuss your next steps.

  1. More wage and hour violations occur in food service than in any other industry.

The Department of Labor receives more complaints and finds that there are more actual wage and hour violations against workers in food service than other industries. According to data from One Fair Wage, 46% of restaurant workers reported that their employers didn’t pay them correctly for overtime, and over 33% of workers said that their employers didn’t pay them correctly for tips. There are several reasons why this industry may be disproportionately affected, including that it is made up of many younger workers who may not be aware of their rights, single workers who are supporting children and fear losing their jobs so are hesitant to speak up, workers of color or undocumented immigrants who do not speak English and do not know how to advocate for their rights or who fear deportation, and more.

If you work in this industry, you need to know that you are at a high risk for being a victim of wage theft, that you’re not alone if your employer has cheated you, and that you can take legal action to recover proper wages without fear of retaliation!

  1. Wage theft in the hospitality industry has increased since the pandemic.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the California hospitality industry and made employers more likely to commit wage theft in order to keep more of the reduced profits in their own pockets. 34% of tipped workers reported an increase in wage theft since 2020. 32% of tipped workers reported that because of lower tips, they didn’t make minimum wage in 2021, and 28% reported that they didn’t get paid as much for overtime in 2021. As inflation rises and the economy worses, service sector employees are more vulnerable to greedy employers.

  1. Wage theft, even in small amounts, can have a major impact on service workers.

Wage theft is a big deal for service workers who may already be struggling to make ends meet. A 2017 investigation into the state of wage theft in the 10 most populated states in the nation revealed that, on average, employee victims of wage theft in these 10 states were cheated out of $64 per week, or $3,300 annually. That means they lost 1 / 4 of their earnings to wage theft.

Consider a full-time, minimum wage hospitality worker earning California’s minimum wage of $15 per hour. They work 15 minutes “off the clock” per their employer’s request before and after their shift each day, but they don’t get paid for it. That’s an extra half-hour of unpaid work each day; when you multiply that by the number of days they work per year and factor in overtime pay rates, that amount that the worker is losing is significant, equating to thousands of dollar per year that can’t be used for rent, mortgage, groceries, utilities, clothing, transportation, and other financial needs.

If your wages aren’t being paid correctly, you are suffering a serious financial loss, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance. Every dollar counts towards a better financial future for you and your loved ones, it’s important that you fight to recover any unpaid wages your employer took from you!

  1. California has strict and unique laws in place regarding tips, overtime pay, and minimum wage designed to protect workers in the hospitality industry.

If you work in California’s hospitality industry, you are better protected by state labor laws than workers in other states. For example, California’s minimum wage is high - $15 an hour, and even higher in many counties! California also has a rule that employers of tipped employees are not allowed to dock their pay based on the tips they earn; if you are tipped, you have the right to earn the regular minimum wage ($15 or more) and the tips you receive on top of that. While California’s overtime laws are complex, you are supposed to be paid either time-and-a-half or double time for every hour of overtime you work (you can find out more about overtime laws here.)

  1. Service workers who are victims of wage theft can seek justice and have the best chance of recovering their rightful pay with the help of a private wage and hour attorney.

If you are a hospitality worker who suspects or knows that you have been a victim of wage theft, you essentially have two options: you can file a complaint with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement or work with a wage and hour attorney. However, the state’s DOL office is under-resourced and overwhelmed by these claims; they are unable to give each one prompt attention. One report notes that even though the hospitality industry has grown, the number of investigators in the Wage & Hour Division has remained nearly the same as 70 years ago. It can take months of walking through red tape and filling out paperwork, and there is no guarantee that you will recover back pay.

The other option is to work with a local attorney who is experienced in matters of wage theft in the hospitality industry. An attorney has less clients to focus on, more accountability (from the state bar), and more at stake (their winning reputation and their legal fee) so they are more likely to be able to work one-on-one with you and resolve your case successfully. Many service workers think that hiring an attorney will be too expensive, but most wage theft lawyers charge on a contingency fee basis, meaning that their clients don’t have to pay anything until a settlement is achieved, at which point their employer will likely be required to pay the lawyer’s fee instead.

Contact Southern California Attorneys, A.P.C. Today To Learn About Your Legal Options!

If you suspect that you are being taken advantage of by your employer, don’t let it go - fight for the pay you worked for. Our experienced, aggressive, multilingual California wage theft attorneys can help hold them accountable. We will listen to your story, explain what we can do on your behalf, and relentlessly pursue compensation for you! Our firm has been ranked in the top 10% of California firms by the Lawyers of Distinction. Our knowledge and skill can give you an advantage! You won’t be deported or lose your job because of coming to us, and you may be able to recover thousands or tens of thousands in a settlement. You never have to pay our fee until your case is won! Call now to schedule your complimentary, confidential consultation and discuss your case!