3 Hilton Head restaurants to pay $23K in back wages after U.S. Department of Labor investigation

astice@islandpacket.comMarch 6, 2013 

COURTESY OF MORGUEFILE.COM

The U.S. Department of Labor says three Hilton Head Island restaurants have paid a total of $23,000 in back wages to several employees after an investigation revealed violations in record-keeping and overtime pay.

But a company that runs one of the restaurants disagrees with the results of the audit and says its operations have been mischaracterized.

According to a Department of Labor news release, Alexander's, Red Fish and the Old Oyster Factory Restaurant are owned and operated by the same company -- Downtown Hilton Head Inc.

An investigation by the department's Hour and Wage Division found that some employees who worked in multiple positions and locations at the restaurants had their hours tracked and paid separately, so they did not receive overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours a week, the release said.

However, Downtown Hilton Head co-owner Robby Maroudas said the company only owns Red Fish. The other two restaurants are each run by separate companies and file separate tax returns, though all three share some owners and employees in common and use a central location for certain operations such as bookkeeping and advertising, Maroudas said.

The Labor Department considered the three restaurants as one entity during its review.

"We dispute the characterization, and we do not think we are one entity," Maroudas said. He added that the company is reviewing its options to fight the finding, although it agreed to pay the back wages.

According to the department's news release, six employees shared the $23,155 in back wages. Maroudas said there were only five employees, and that auditors determined two of them were owed less than $100 each.

Maroudas said the employees that the department said were owed money worked multiple jobs among the restaurants. For example, they might have worked a morning shift at one restaurant, while taking a second job at another, he said.

"This looks like we're taking advantage of people, and that's not us," Maroudas said. "We had no intent to not pay people properly."

Attempts Wednesday afternoon to reach Labor Department spokesman Michael D'Aquino and Michelle Garvey, director of the Hour and Wage Division in Columbia, for further comment were unsuccessful.

According to the release, the investigation of Downtown Hilton Head Inc. is part of a multi-year enforcement initiative focused on the South Carolina restaurant industry, in which "widespread noncompliance with ... minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions has been found."

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