A luxury inn on Lummi Island reached a settlement Monday with the U.S. Department of Labor Industries after it failed to pay employees for overtime or minimum wage.
Willows Inn required new kitchen workers to work one month for free as a trial period before consideration for a paid position, LNI said in a news release. If workers were hired, they received $50 per day for up to 14 hours each day with no consideration for overtime.
The settlement announced Monday requires the company to pay $74,812 in unpaid overtime to 19 kitchen workers. The company will also pay that amount in damages to employees, L&I said.
Willows Inn will also stop its one-month trial period program, known as a "stage program," and comply with federal wage laws.
“We hope this case can educate others in the high-end restaurant world that “staging,” while common, is unfair to workers, and it is illegal,” said Jeanette Aranda, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s office in Seattle. “This case allows us to level the playing field for employers who play by the rules by complying with the law. We are dedicated to educating and protecting both workers and employers.”
Stages, also considered apprentices or interns, were relied on to supply unpaid labor. L&I said duties included cleaning dishes, polishing silverware, collecting herbs, prepping vegetables and assembling dishes.
The unpaid employees were also tasked with cleaning the facility and painting the exterior of the buildings.
The luxury restaurant was recently selected as one of the world's best luxury farm stays, The New York Times called it a restaurant worth a plane ride, and it was named one of Eater's Best Restaurants in America in December.