Help Wanted: Charging employees for lunch

New York State law allows restaurants to consider

New York State law allows restaurants to consider meals they provide for their employees as part of the workers’ wages, but the value cannot exceed $2.50 per meal. (Credit: iStock)

Carrie Mason-Draffen

Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen Carrie Mason-Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.

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DEAR CARRIE: My daughter works as a hostess at a well-known local restaurant. The business serves a meal at 3 p.m. every day for employees and charges them $3 a day for the food, whether the workers eat or not. My daughter works just two to four days a week, so the deductions are significant. Are they legal?

-- Indigestion

DEAR INDIGESTION: It's legal for restaurants to charge employees for a meal, but your daughter's employer is exceeding the amount state law allows. The daily charge shouldn't exceed $2.50, the New York State Department of Labor said.

"The restaurant is wrong to be charging $3 per day," the department said. "The writer may file a complaint with our local Labor Standards office, and we will investigate the situation."

And the charge is allowable only if employees eat the meals most of the time, the department said.

The regulations are from the state Hospitality and Wage Order, which the department enforces.

Here is a more detailed look:

Meals furnished by an employer to an employee may be considered part of the worker's wages but valued at no more than $2.50 a meal.

An employee who works a shift requiring a meal period . . . must either receive a meal furnished by the employer as part of the worker's compensation or the person must be permitted to bring his or her own food and consume it on premises.

Meals are considered furnished by an employer when they are made available to the employee during reasonable meal periods and [are] customarily eaten by the employee.

So it seems your daughter's employer needs to review the state meal regulations.

Have your daughter call the department at 516-794-8195 for more information.

DEAR CARRIE: I work as a salaried employee and am not allowed overtime. Sometimes as a part of my job I have to meet with inspectors, including local fire marshals, to inspect life-safety equipment such as emergency lights and emergency generators in various buildings my employer owns. These appointments are generally at night after my normal work hours. I go home and then report back to the buildings to meet with these inspectors in my personal vehicle. Am I allowed to claim reimbursement for the mileage to and from my home to the buildings? My supervisor tells me "No" as that is my assigned work location.

-- Pay back?

DEAR PAY BACK:Your company's reasoning for not reimbursing you for the mileage may not be sound, but its decision is legal because companies don't have to reimburse employees for expenses.

But employees can write off qualifying business expenses on their taxes. Even though you are essentially returning to work with your night commute, the expense of doing so is probably deductible because it's an extra trip, said Peter Wunsch, an East Northport-based accountant.

But meeting the threshold for such a deduction isn't easy, because your business expenses are deductible only if they exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.

"That's the problem with a lot of those deductions," Wunsch said.

The IRS recommends that you review its "Publication 529: Miscellaneous Deductions," which discusses the 2 percent floor and explains other deductible business expenses.

For more on state regulations for restaurant staff meals go to http://bit.ly/X4fCNX; For more on business-expense deductions go to http://1.usa.gov/WZ4ORe