Department of Labor Cracks Down On Unpaid Restaurant Internships

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The Willows Inn will pay more than $149K after an investigation into a stage program

A recent U.S. Department of Labor crackdown on an unpaid internship program at a Seattle-area restaurant is a cautionary tale for the industry.

The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, near Bellingham, Wash., has agreed to pay unpaid overtime and damages totaling $149,624 to 19 kitchen workers who participated in an unpaid internship, or stage, at the restaurant.

While stages are common in the industry, and many chefs boast about working for high-profile chefs, often for free, DOL officials disclosed The Willows Inn settlement in part as a warning.

“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 DOL’s Wage and Hour Division 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.”

In the case, the DOL argued that Freshore Hospitality LLC, doing business as The Willows Inn, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay overtime and minimum wage to entry-level kitchen staff who worked for one month as a free try-out before they were considered for paid employment.

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About VSheree

V. Sheree Williams is the publisher of Cuisine Noir Magazine, the country's first digital and print culinary magazine that connects the African diaspora through food, drink and travel. For more, in-depth stories, visit
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