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July 24, 2003
Houston Companies Agree to Pay $205,000 in Back Wages
Three Houston companies have agreed to pay more than $205,000 in back minimum wage and overtime pay after an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (WHD) found about 297 current and former employees were underpaid.

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The investigations found that six Taqueria Cancun Restaurants failed to pay the federal minimum wage and overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The restaurants' tipped wait staff and bussers were docked for required uniforms that brought their wages below the minimum wage. They were also paid straight time for overtime hours. The investigations found 179 current and former employees due $105,000 in back wages.

Variedades El Salvador and Variedades Bakery and Restaurant charged restaurant employees for required uniforms, resulting in minimum wage violations for employees earning minimum wage, including tipped employees, and failed to pay time-and one-half for overtime hours, according to the department. Back wages of $81,000 were computed for 128 current and former employees.

Ayala's Quality Food Products Inc., doing business in Houston as Ayala's Tortilla Factory, paid eight employees a salary for all hours worked, without ensuring that the salary covered the minimum wage for all hours worked. The company also failed to pay additional half time for the overtime hours worked. These employees were found due $19,000.

The FLSA requires employees to be paid the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour for all hours worked. Employers may consider tips as part of an employee's wages but must pay at least $2.13 an hour in direct wages. If an employer counts tips toward meeting the minimum wage obligation, employees must generally be allowed to retain their tips. An employer cannot require employees to purchase uniforms if the cost reduces their hourly rate below the minimum wage (or below $2.13 per hour in direct wages). Also under the FLSA, covered employees should receive time and one-half their regular rate of pay when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek.

The investigations resulted from .Justice and Equality in the Workplace Program (JEWP) referrals. The Houston JEWP seeks to educate Hispanic employers about their responsibilities and employees about their rights in the workplace. Wage and Hour's Houston office and its partners disseminate information, provide compliance assistance and conduct investigations to enforce federal labor laws.

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