Working off the clock

Joined Feb 14, 2005
Perhaps this issue bothers me more than it should, but I am hoping that by getting this off my chest, I could put it out of my mind. I know my options and don't like them very much. Mostly, I would just like to hear some other perspectives on this.

First, a little background - I have been a pastry cook for several years now. I have been lucky enough to work in some very nice restaurants, even a few with Michelin stars. I have found that in every restaurant I have worked in, I am expected to work some time off the clock. The amount differs from place to place and it seems that the nicer the restaurant, the more free time you are expected to give. As though I should feel so lucky to be working at such a place and be able to put their name on my resume that I should be happy "volunteering".
From talking to other cooks, it seems that this is fairly widespread among high-end restaurants, but that more casual places are less likely to do it.
In my current restaurant, most of the cooks work an hour or two before they clock in each day. Since I work pastry and am the last to get my orders out, I am often asked to clock out before my last ticket is even in. This may only mean an additional 30 minutes off the clock, but I can't resist occasionally calculating how much extra would be in my paycheck if it all counted and the money adds up.
Now when the restaurant owner or casino executive (I work in Vegas) comes in regularly to eat dinner in his expensive suit, ordering whatever he wants from the menu, for free of course, I think why should his profits be boosted at my expense? This is clearly illegal, but everyone seems complicit in this.
Why should my time be of less value than that of the people washing dishes (they never work one minute off the clock)? The servers probably make three times as much as I do, yet I do not see them coming in early. What is it about our profession that makes it OK to do this?
My fear is that some day I will be on the other side. I hope to be a pastry chef one day and would like to look out for my staff and behave ethically. However, in many places I have worked, the pastry chef doesn't wield much power and often has to comply with whatever policies the head chef sets. Some restaurants are much better about this than others, but it is hardly ever spoken about and I never know the situation before taking the job.
So, what do you think? Why is this allowed to continue for cooks? Are other industries just as bad or is it something about restaurants that makes us all go along with this?
This rant is rather long, but I suppose I do feel better now....
Joined Feb 24, 2009
First, this is widespread in this industry. It goes on everywhere and it seems that the more prestigious a place might be, the more it happens. It appears to be most concentrated in kitchens. You don't find it elsewhere within other departments in the same hotel, casino, resort, or club.

Doubt me? Go ask the concierge if front desk people, or housekeepers are asked to work off the clock.

Second, it's illegal, although the previous administration and congress went to great lengths to reduce or eliminate worker protections in such instances.

What to do?
1. Keep careful track of the hours you are required to work without pay. Keep a small pocket calendar and write down these hours each day for about a month.

2. Take your documentation to the local office of the Department of Labor and ask to speak to someone about discrimination and unfair work practices. Describe in detail what is happening, highlighting how other workers in other positions are not required to work "off the clock."

3. Depending on your position, you may be able to get a significant amount of back pay.

The whole culture of "you're so lucky to be working here", "this will look great on your resume", and all those down-the-road promises are rampant and complete horse droppings. I've worked in 3 star and 4 diamond places that did little for my resume credibility until I actually acquired a salaried, management position.
Joined Feb 14, 2005
HappyFood - Thanks for the suggestions, but I have avoided that path. It would be so easy for me, because my position is actually represented by the local Culinary Union. I could go to my rep and I have no doubt that within 24 hours, all off-the-clock work would be stopped. I just strongly suspect that my hours would also be cut drastically "to prevent overtime" and I would be lucky if I didn't lose my health insurance coverage.
This is a small town in a way, and trying to fight this policy could only hurt my career. I am just surprised that it is so wide spread (it being illegal and all).:mad:
Joined Feb 24, 2009
I understand your position and vulnerability Clove.
That's why things never change and people continue to be exploited.

You do have protections-especially if you are member of a union.

One question--
If you are being forced to work without pay, why are you concerned about losing nonexistent overtime hours?
Joined Mar 16, 2005
I understandthe importance of unions when they were first created, but like a few others on these forums I am highly suspicious of the modern function of them and their effectiveness at creating excellence. I do not want to be part of an organization that rewards mediocrity and seniority while hungry cooks are shunted to the back burner so as to placate the person who's avoided getting fired for twenty years.


Joined Mar 2, 2006
A sticky situation, unfortunately the food industry is still in the stone age af far as this goes, it is a pretty common practice, I have done this myself. You should be getting paid for the work you do and all of it. I would be documenting this as much as I could, you can get back pay for this, you are in fact entitled to it. I think this will never change because it is so ingrained in the industry.

If your place of employment is one that takes GOOD care of you then I would be willing to help out and go that extra mile; otherwise I would get my resume in order and roll out of there.

If the boss goes to help you and is a good boss then you should be willing to help back, if it helps keep the place afloat then by all means if you like the place do it, if it only serves to get your boss a new 100,000K Mercedes instead of the new 60,000K Lexus then don't. There was a restaurant in Phila that did this to all the BOH staff, they would work you 45 hours to the point of overtime then schedule you for a double-you would then work 16 hours for shift pay.
The dishwashers are the ones that turned them in, for months they collected their punch cards and time slips, one day they went to the labor board and all **** broke loose. Labor board showed up with a tractor trailer and took ALL the paperwork from the office with the help of the police. Some of the cooks got checks for thousands of dollars. My wife was working there for about 5 months then, she wound up getting a check for about 800 dollars for past due pay and accrued overtime and she did not even really work the hours some of the lead cooks were.

What your boss is doing is highly illegal.

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