ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The owners of two Red Mesa restaurants had to shell out nearly $200,000 for not paying their employees properly at two of their St. Petersburg locations.
Federal investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor discovered Red Mesa Cantina and Red Mesa Restaurant withheld tips earned by bartenders and servers to pay for customers who skipped out on their bills. It was also found the businesses were deducting the cost of uniforms from workers' pay, paying incorrect overtime, and for some staff, paying no overtime.
As explained in the Department of Labor news release, Red Mesa "paid an incorrect overtime rate to tipped employees and failed to combine hours when these employees worked at both restaurants in the same workweek.
"By doing so, the restaurants paid overtime at rates lower than required by law for hours over 40 in a workweek and failed to pay for all overtime hours in some workweeks."
A total of $190,730 in back wages and liquidated damages were recovered for 89 affected workers as a result of the investigation.
In response to the release on the investigation, owner and operator Peter Veytia shared the following statement:
“A Department of Labor investigation in 2021 calculated amounts of overtime, uniform expenses and other monies owed to each employee. In 2022, we took that amount, doubled it, and paid our employees to make things right.
“We were extremely distressed to learn about this situation in 2021, and have aggressively taken far-reaching steps to make sure something like this never happens again. As part of this process, we terminated the outside firm that had handled this part of Red Mesa’s business.
“As a family-owned, local business, we know we would never succeed without our high-quality employees. We want our employees to know they are being treated fairly every day.”
This statement appears to show the company went above and beyond to right their wrong with their employees. Ryan Barack, a board-certified labor and employment lawyer with the law firm Kwall Barack Nadeau LLC in Clearwater, contends that's not what happened.
10 Tampa Bay reached out to Red Mesa to get a better understanding of how much they actually paid back to employees.
"It was $190K total," is what the company said they paid back to employees.
When asked if Red Mesa did anything above legal requirements, the PR firm representing the company said, "The company met the legal requirements, and we’ve continued to make sure we have the processes in place to make sure employees are being compensated fairly going forward."
Red Mesa would not share the third-party firm it used to manage its payroll systems. When asked how management did not know about the pay discrepancies, the company said "a third-party firm was handling the pay system. Once we learned of the discrepancies, we changed third-party firms."
Red Mesa said employees were paid back wages in March 2022.
When asked about Red Mesa's claim that it paid double to its employees in back wages, Barack said that was misconstruing what was required of them by the Department of Labor.
"The employees received double the amount that was due because that's what the law required because it's to make up for the fact that they weren't paid properly in the first instance," Barack said. "Essentially, rather than getting interest, the employees are entitled to twice the amount they should have been paid originally."
Wage theft includes instances of not being paid overtime, not being paid your agreed-upon rate, or time clock altering that is unapproved. If you think you're a victim of wage theft, here's what Barack recommends you do:
"Employees who are the victims of wage theft can file a complaint with the Department of Labor, either the Hillsborough or Pinellas County wage theft office, or they can contact a private lawyer and pursue a claim in the courts," Barack said.
It's recommended that employees who are concerned about their employer's potential misconduct should keep an eye on their pay stubs, watch clock-in and out times and closely monitor tips.
Here in Florida, Barack says wage theft is a lot more common than realized because of its many service industries.
"Unfortunately, Florida is one of the states that leads the nation in wage theft," Barack said. "We have more theft of wages going on, from employees here than almost any other state. So it's very, very common that employees are having their money stolen from them by their companies.
"Unfortunately, it happens far too frequently."