Q. We offer free lunches to our food service employees. Can we count the cost of these lunches as part of our employees’ compensation?
A. The short answer is yes, but as we all know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, particularly in the world of wage and hour law. To explore the right way to do this, it’s helpful to take a look at some common mistakes that employers make.
Suppose Jerry works at Bob’s Steak ‘N Beans as a line cook. Bob’s is located in Illinois, so the minimum wage for non-tipped employees is $8.25 per hour. Suppose Jerry works 45 hours over 5 work days in a week. For that week, he would be entitled to straight-time wages of $371.25. However, rather than paying that full amount in cash, Bob provides Jerry with a free Steak ‘N Beans Bonanza platter each day for lunch. The menu cost of the platter is $15, so Bob deducts $15 per day from Jerry’s pay, leaving him with $296.25 in straight-time pay. On Thursday, Jerry brought a salad from home, but Bob still charged him for the platter since it was available to Jerry even if he didn’t eat it. (Bob ended up serving it to a customer.) Bob didn’t just fall of the turnip truck, so he knows that he also has to pay Jerry overtime for 5 hours. So Bob takes Jerry’s total straight-time wages ($296.25), divides by 45, and divides by two to get an overtime premium rate of $3.29 per hour. Multiplied by five hours, he gets $16.46. Adding that amount to Jerry’s straight-time pay, Bob comes up with a total of $312.71.
Can anyone spot the problems here?