Bluegrass Hospitality Group to pay $114,756 in back wages

Bluegrass Hospitality Group and related companies, which operate several Lexington restaurants, have agreed to pay $114,756 in back wages to 43 employees as the result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.

The Wage and Hour Division's district office in Louisville alleged the companies violated the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime pay and record-keeping provisions. In addition to Bluegrass Hospitality Group LLC, the companies involved include Lexington Choice Restaurant LLC; Malone's of Lexington, doing business as Malone's Restaurant; Sal's Restaurant, doing business as Sal's Chophouse; and Bluegrass Hospitality Group Palomar, the labor department said Tuesday in a news release.

"Without admitting the validity of the Department of Labor's determination, we agreed to compensate these employees for the claimed overtime wages to put this matter behind us," Bluegrass Hospitality Group said in a release. "We have taken a number of steps to ensure all employees will be compensated for all future overtime appropriately. The hours in question represent less than 1 percent of our total payroll."

The labor department's Louisville Wage and Hour Division office found that employees were made to work more than 40 hours a week without being paid overtime, as required, according to the labor department. Bluegrass Hospitality Group denied employees full wages by not combining all hours worked by employees working at more than one of the company's locations, the labor department said.

Bluegrass Hospitality Group said the labor department claimed to Malone's of Lexington about two years ago that employees holding jobs at multiple BHG restaurants must be paid overtime based on the number of hours they worked. BHG said each of its restaurants is operated as a separate entity, with different owners and separate accounting systems. The employees were treated as having jobs with different companies, BHG said.

The labor department said that in many instances, servers were required to report for work at the beginning of their shifts but were not allowed to "clock in" until a sufficient number of customers had arrived.

"We do not make employees work more than 40 hours per week without paying them overtime and never required an employee to refrain from clocking in until a sufficient number of guests had arrived," BHG said.

The labor department said investigators also found that accurate records of employees' wages and hours worked were not kept.