Federal and state laws protect the rights of all employees working in the food service industry. The Fair Labor Standards Act sets the standard for all employees, including those in restaurants and fast food establishments. Employment laws ensure that restaurant workers, regardless of their ages, receive reasonable hours, fair pay and safe working conditions.


Most restaurant employees, such as bartenders, food servers and table busers, earn a wage as well as tips. The Fair Labor Standards Act protects the right of restaurant employees by setting fair wages. Under the FLSA, an employee is a tipped employee if he receives more than $30 per month in tips. As of 2012, the minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13, only if that amount plus the employee's tips equals or is greater than the federal minimum wage. The federal minimum wage was $7.25 per hour as of 2011.


Restaurant employees often work overtime. Since most of these employees follow the tipping system, employers must adhere to special overtime rules for these employees. Overtime rates normally apply as long as an employee works more than 40 hours in a week. This time period also applies to tipped employees. If a tipped employee receives $2.13 per hour in minimum wage, he must receive one and one-half times the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25, not one and one-half times $2.13.

Youth Employment

The employment of youth between 14 and 17 years of age in restaurants also is regulated by the FLSA. FLSA's 1996 amendments allow employers to pay youths under 18 years of age a minimum wage of $4.25 an hour during their first 90 days on the job. However, employers cannot fire an adult worker simply to hire a youth at the lower rate. The total hours that youths may work is also limited: They cannot work more than three hours on a school day or more than 18 hours for the week. They can perform only nonhazardous duties such as bussing tables, washing dishes or bagging orders. Youth employees also must stay clear of hazardous equipment such as power-driven meat processing machines and power-driven bakery machines.


Employee breaks in restaurants are not regulated by federal law; each state has its own regulations. As of 2012, 19 states had laws regulating breaks for employees. Most of these states require at least a half-hour break when the employee works more than five or six hours for the day. If a restaurant offers a meal break to its employees, it is not penalized under federal law for disallowing unpaid breaks, meaning that employees would receive payment for their breaks.