The owner and chef at the posh Beverly Hills sushi restaurant Urasawa has been fined $55,000 for withholding overtime pay from four kitchen employees, and for not allowing them to take breaks. The fine, which was ordered by the state, results from a California Labor Department investigation of the Rodeo Drive restaurant that includes dishes made with imported Japanese ingredients and sprinkled with caviar and 24-karat gold flakes.
A typical bill for dinner for two at the restaurant is upwards of $1,000 (although customers are not allowed to take home an itemized copy). However, despite that, owner Hiroyuki Urasawa has been found to owe thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and overtime to workers. He is fighting both state and civil cases against him.
One employee who went public about the suit says that in addition to being owed money and not being allowed to take breaks, he and other employees were not permitted to use the restaurant’s restroom. He also says that Urasawa told him to spend $700 of his own money to buy a set of kitchen knives. He says that he was fired when he asked to go home sick one day.
Advocates for immigrant workers say that these violations by high-end restaurants and other businesses are not unusual. Because many restaurants pay their workers in cash, wage violations are difficult to track. Violations often involve owners who do not pay overtime rates despite having employees working shifts of 12 hours or more. A 2009 study by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), estimated $26 million in wage violations every week in Los Angeles alone.
Anyone who has not been paid the amount he or she is owed should seek legal representation by an attorney who specializes in employment litigation. A lawyer can work with state and federal agencies to ensure that the employer pays the wages owed.
The New York Times, “At an Upscale Beverly Hills Restaurant, Claims of Underpaying Workers” Jennifer Medina, Jul. 20, 2013